In a development that brings the world one step closer to a time when destructive addiction-fueling memories can be erased with a single treatment, scientists from the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have been given a grant by the National Institutes of Health through the Blueprint Neurotherapeutics Network and the National Institute of Drug Abuse.
TSRI Associate Professor Courtney Miller, an early pioneer in this emerging research, will be a principal investigator of the new five-year grant, along with TSRI investigators Professor Patrick Griffin and Associate Professor Ted Kamenecka. The first year’s funding is for $640,000, followed by the possibility of additional support in the millions, including outsourced studies. Each year’s funding is based on reaching certain milestones, with the goal of a Phase 1a clinical trial in the fifth year.
“We’re excited that the NIH recognizes the outstanding potential of our research,” Miller said. “We have a solid target, a viable drug candidate and a clear development path. Now our research is on an accelerated footing toward clinical trials.”
Miller’s approach has been compared to the cult film classic “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” in which Jim Carrey’s character attempts to get over a romantic breakup by erasing his memories. But for methamphetamine abusers, memories are not only painful, they can also trigger relapse. As a 2015 article highlighting Miller’s research inThe Washington Post concluded: “A spotless mind…[is] a chance for an addict to start over again.”
In their research, Miller and colleagues are examining a drug candidate called blebbistatin. The compound enables scientists to take advantage of the fact that meth-related memories are more unstable than other memories. In animal models, the team was able to show that a single treatment with blebbistatin was sufficient to produce a seemingly permanent loss of meth-associated memories without affecting other types of recall. The potential of such an effect with a single treatment significantly reduces the typical safety and toxicity concerns of making a new drug.
The grant, number UH2NS096833, was made as part of the NIH’s Blueprint Neurotherapeutics Network, which aims to generate novel compounds and data on their activity, toward the goal of discovering and developing new drugs that will ultimately be commercialized and benefit the public.