Gel prevents excessive drunkenness in mice

Innovative research has developed a gel that helps mice rapidly break down alcohol, potentially paving the way for human hangover prevention and liver protection treatments.

Short Summary:

  • Researchers developed an iron-milk protein gel to break down alcohol in mice.
  • The gel reduces toxic by-products and protects the liver.
  • Potential future human trials could lead to hangover and chronic drinking damage prevention.

Imagine a simple remedy to avoid hangovers and liver damage from alcohol — researchers are getting closer to making this a reality. A team from ETH Zurich, led by food scientist Jiaqi Su, created a gel comprising iron atoms and the milk protein beta-lactoglobulin, as detailed in their May 13 report in Nature Nanotechnology. This combination mimics the activity of an enzyme that converts ethanol into the less harmful acetate.

Traditional alcohol breakdown in the body produces acetaldehyde, a toxic by-product responsible for hangovers and liver damage. “One really nice feature of [the new gel] is they’re able to convert alcohol directly to acetate, which means there’s no accumulation of the toxic intermediate,” noted Duo Xu, a biochemist at Stanford University. This gel acts like a “hydrogel-based nano-liver,” effectively taking over the liver’s role in breaking down alcohol.

Su and his team fed the gel to eight mice, followed by alcohol 20 minutes later. The timing was essential because “more than 30 percent of ethanol is absorbed within our colon,” Su explained. If the gel was administered too late, it wouldn’t reach the colon in time to intercept the alcohol before it entered the bloodstream.

The results were impressive. The blood alcohol content of mice that had consumed the iron-milk gel peaked at about 200 milligrams per deciliter, significantly lower than the 350 mg/dl in the control groups. Moreover, these mice woke up two hours earlier than their counterparts.

Additionally, the gel protected the mice from liver damage. In a follow-up test six hours later, the treated mice performed comparably to those that had never been given alcohol, successfully navigating a water maze with greater speed and accuracy.

“Taking the gel after drinking too much would probably still help because it also breaks down acetaldehyde,” Duo Xu emphasized, suggesting versatility in the gel’s application.

The research hints at promising implications for humans. Su’s team is now focusing on advancing to human trials. “If successful, this gel could be a game-changer in preventing the damage caused by excessive alcohol consumption,” said ETH Zurich materials scientist Rafaelle Mezzenga.

According to a 2023 study, around 5 percent of the global population suffers from alcohol-related liver diseases. Over time, chronic drinking takes a toll on vital organs, underscoring the need for effective interventions like this gel.

The gel’s development stemmed from the desire to create a preventive measure for alcohol-related issues. By converting ethanol to acetate directly in the colon, the gel bypasses the harmful intermediate stage, presenting a safer alternative to the body’s natural detoxification process.

While this research is currently limited to mice, the potential for human application is intriguing. The success of future trials could lead to over-the-counter remedies for preventing hangovers and long-term health issues resulting from alcohol consumption.

In summary, this innovative iron-milk gel holds promise for revolutionizing how we address the effects of alcohol, aiming not only at symptom relief but also at preventing serious health consequences. As the research advances, it may open new avenues for treating and preventing alcohol-induced liver damage and other related conditions.

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