Drunken mice sober up swiftly with enzyme treatment

Have scientists discovered a "magic pill" to sober up those who have overindulged?

For those who imbibe, there are times that morning-after cures just don't save the body from the night before.

Although some swear by a steaming hot bowl of menudo, others by a tall glass of orange juice and yet others by "the hair of the dog," a team of scientists is offering a potentially preventive measure with its research in encapsulated enzymes.

Led by Dr. Yunfeng Lu, from the University of California, Los Angeles, and Dr. Cheng Ji, from the University of Southern California, the team has good evidence of being able to break down alcohol levels in the bloodstream of drunken mice, simply by injecting them with alcohol-metabolizing enzymes delivered in tiny nanocapsules.

The capsules work to keep the enzymes stable as they move through the system, and at only one nanometer thick (100,000 times thinner than a human hair), the capsules allow the enzymes to slip easily into an alcohol molecule. The scientists explain that the nanocapsule acts like an organelle, a part of a cell that triggers chemical reactions.

Once inside the alcohol molecule, the enzymes — an alcohol oxidase and a catalase — work quickly to decompose the alcohol in the mice's systems, collaborating to turn the alcohol into byproducts that can be eliminated easily from the body. This functions not unlike the liver does, according to Lu.

Results were promising: After just 45 minutes, blood alcohol levels of the group given the enzymes were 15.8 percent lower than the control group. After 90 minutes they were 26.1 percent lower, and after three hours, 34.7 percent lower, according to the Nanowerk technology website.

In terms of how their work can benefit humans, Lu notes, "With further research, this discovery could be used as a preventative measure or antidote for alcohol intoxication." In other words, take a pill and sober up swiftly.

The team tested the effectiveness of taking the enzymes prophylactically along with consumption of alcohol, and they found that the results were slightly lower, but just as impressive.

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