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More than 10% of Americans have used an illegal drug in the past month, and over 5% suffer from an alcohol addiction disorder. Those statistics—from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, respectively—reveal one country’s battle with addiction and abuse. To address the need for development of treatments for drug addiction and abuse, Charles River Laboratories is validating and introducing rodent behavioral and neuroimaging techniques to test potential treatments.

Mateusz Dudek, PhD, senior client manager, together with the scientific team, is developing services for addiction and abuse testing at Charles River Laboratories. Ten years ago, Dudek started working in this area during his doctoral research at the University of Helsinki in Finland, where he focused primarily on neural mechanisms of alcohol addiction and, to a lesser extent, neurotoxicity of stimulants, mainly methamphetamine (METH) and mephedrone (4-MMC). Dudek says, “Our focus was to identify changes in neuroconnectivity following chronic drinking.” This work involved AA rats (alko, alcohol), which were produced by selective breeding for ethanol preference. Then, compounds could be tested for impacts on drinking behaviors and resulting modulations of brain activity.

Similarly, Dudek and colleagues looked at METH’s and 4-MMC’s impact on the rodent brain. By using a binge-abuse model, Dudek and colleagues found that 4-MMC, when co-administered with ethanol, “produces similar changes in brain activity to those seen after METH administration, but the former does not seem to induce long-term neurotoxicity.” He adds, “Some of those stimulant compounds might be used as therapies.”

Expanding investigative options

Charles River Laboratories already offers in vitro protocols that help customers test compounds that have a liability of being abused, for their role in neurogenesis. Established in vivo models and the company’s core behavioral facility are also utilized to evaluate efficacy of psychedelics in neuropathic pain and in neurodegenerative and neuropsychiatry diseases. Customers will soon be able to select from various in vivo protocols that will focus on treatment of addiction itself.

Currently, the Charles River facility in Finland is developing a battery of behavioral tests—including operant paradigms—that will be used in addiction research. Some of the top applications of these services will be battling the opioid crisis, looking for solutions to alcohol abuse, and repurposing psychedelics to treat neuropathic pain, anxiety, and depression, and to improve cognitive performance in neurodegenerative diseases or after brain injury.

Dudek adds that over the past few years, Charles River has been contacted by a number of companies interested in testing its derivatives of psychedelic compounds to see how they might improve neurogenesis and neuroplasticity, which play an important role in recovery from a traumatic brain injury, depression, or anxiety.

These offerings will arise from Charles River’s existing areas of expertise, such as extensive MRI capabilities, including manganese-enhanced magnetic resonance imaging (MEMRI), which Dudek says “can be very well applied in this type of research. We also have extensive experience with the behavioral assessment of the animals that would be well applied in the field of addiction research, as well as new investigational compounds that may come with a liability of being abused.”

These testing capabilities promise to benefit experts in healthcare, as well as citizens and governments around the world. Even a decade ago, scientists reported that alcohol abuse cost the United States nearly $250 billion every year. That’s just one of the economic impacts of addiction and abuse, and they all fuel the drive for better treatments.


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