Hazelden Betty Ford, Mayo Clinic set out to find biological markers for treatment of alcoholism

New research collaboration will combine genetics and psychiatry to identify precise medicines for the millions who suffer from alcohol use disorder

CENTER CITY, Minn., July 30, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation has signed an agreement with Mayo Clinic to collaborate on a federally funded research project that could help usher in a new era of addiction medicine.

The nation's largest nonprofit treatment organization. (PRNewsFoto/Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation)

The two national health care leaders will search for genetic markers that predict response to the drug acamprosate, which has been shown to help people with alcohol use disorder stay sober. The five-year study, coordinated with and funded by grants from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, aims to help addiction care providers understand who, based on a blood test, should receive the medicine and who shouldn't because they are likely to experience side effects or be nonresponsive.

Researchers also hope to uncover insights that could lead to new medications and potentially help predict who is most vulnerable to problematic drinking.

"Alcohol use disorder is the most prevalent addiction worldwide, responsible for almost 90,000 annual deaths in the U.S. alone and a contributor to many other mental and physical health conditions," said Marvin D. Seppala, M.D., chief medical officer of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. The nation's leading nonprofit addiction treatment provider is headquartered in Center City, Minn.—about 115 miles north of Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

"By finding the molecular drivers of alcohol use disorder, we hope to not only inform more precise use of medications and the development of new ones, but also encourage more help-seeking by instilling more confidence in the effectiveness of treatment," Seppala added. "This also could be a step toward one day being able to predict, genetically, who is most likely to develop alcohol use disorder."

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved three medications for treatment of alcohol use disorder. However, they do not work for everyone, and there are no known biomarkers to reliably predict which patients would be good candidates for these therapies.

"For some of our patients, the medicine known as acamprosate is a remarkably effective supplement to the clinical therapy and peer support we provide, helping to curb cravings during and after treatment," Seppala said. "Unfortunately, we have no idea who it will work for, so we provide it to patients and hope that it helps. We hope to better understand this medication and how to use it more precisely."

Researchers will recruit 800 people receiving care for alcohol use disorder at Mayo Clinic-affiliated treatment programs in Rochester and Albert Lea as well as at Hazelden Betty Ford in Center City, a large campus that includes residential treatment services and embedded researchers. Study participants will provide blood for genetic testing that will identify variants to help predict their response to the use of acamprosate or a placebo.

The study, which is also supported by funding from the Samuel C. Johnson Genomics of Addiction program, expands upon previous research completed by Mayo Clinic.

Individualizing medicine in addiction treatment, based on patients' genetic fingerprints, is a significant need and opportunity, said Valerie Slaymaker, Ph.D., vice president of education and research at Hazelden Betty Ford and the chief academic officer and provost of the Hazelden Betty Ford Graduate School of Addiction Studies.

"We need to learn more about who, genetically speaking, responds best to the different medications used in the treatment of addiction," Slaymaker said. "This research—on the cutting edge of genetics, precision medicine and addiction care—is just the beginning of what truly could become a new era in the treatment of substance use disorders."

About the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation
The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation is a force of healing and hope for individuals, families and communities affected by addiction to alcohol and other drugs. As the nation's leading nonprofit provider of comprehensive inpatient and outpatient treatment for adults and youth, the Foundation has 17 locations nationwide and collaborates with an expansive network throughout health care. With a legacy that began in 1949 and includes the 1982 founding of the Betty Ford Center, the Foundation today also encompasses a graduate school of addiction studies, a publishing division, an addiction research center, recovery advocacy and thought leadership, professional and medical education programs, school-based prevention resources and a specialized program for children who grow up in families with addiction. Learn more at www.HazeldenBettyFord.org and on Twitter @hazldnbettyford.

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SOURCE Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation

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