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MUSC team finds new path for tobacco addiction treatment

Contact: Heather Woolwine

June 10, 2013                                          
CHARLESTON – Smokers who’ve tried to kick the habit and failed, take heart.
A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) researchers casts light on the brain biology of nicotine relapse  that can fundamentally shift how cigarette addiction is treated, said Peter Kalivas, Ph.D., professor and co-chair in the Department of Neurosciences.

He said the field traditionally has relied on replacement therapies to treat drug dependent patients, such as giving methodone for heroin and varenicline (trademarked Chantix) for smoking cessation.

 “That’s the state of the art right now in the treatment of addiction. The experiments in this report point out new avenues to treat the impaired ability to regulate a maladaptive habit…If these avenues become a focus of pharmaceutical development, it’s a very different focus than we’ve had to date. We may be dealing with the pathology that is mediating this behavior regardless of whether the maladaptive behavior is associated with drugs, eating or gambling. It’s potentially a whole new way of looking at drug development for treating addiction.”

Kalivas and Cassandra Gipson, Ph.D., lead author on the study, said they were surprised by the study’s results. The team now is working on a pilot clinical trial to test one of these compounds, N-acetylcysteine, in cigarette smokers. Gipson said she loves how rapidly their work is being translated to potentially help patients. “It’s exciting to have a finding like this. You cross your fingers and you graph it and you hope. Everyone knows someone who smokes. It’s a difficult habit to kick and the relapse rates are ridiculously high. It’s a huge personal and societal health care problem that may be diminished if our ideas are correct.”
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Founded in 1824 in Charleston, The Medical University of South Carolina is the oldest medical school in the South. Today, MUSC continues the tradition of excellence in education, research, and patient care. MUSC educates and trains more than 3,000 students and residents, and has nearly 13,000 employees, including approximately 1,500 faculty members. As the largest non-federal employer in Charleston, the university and its affiliates have collective annual budgets in excess of $1.7 billion. MUSC operates a 750-bed medical center, which includes a nationally recognized Children's Hospital, the Ashley River Tower (cardiovascular, digestive disease, and surgical oncology), Hollings Cancer Center (one of 66 National Cancer Institute designated centers) and a leading Institute of Psychiatry. For more information on academic information or clinical services, visit For more information on hospital patient services, visit


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