A new vaccine will give anyone who drinks even a small amount of alcohol an immediate and very heavy hangover.
Scientists from the University of Chile have spent a year designing the drug in a bid to tackle the growing problem of alcoholism in the country.
The vaccine, which would be effective for between six months and a year, works by sending a biochemical message to the liver telling it not to express genes that metabolize alcohol.
Normally, the liver turns alcohol into the hangover-causing compound called acetaldehyde which is then broken down by a metabolizing enzyme.
If someone who’s been vaccinated tries to drink alcohol, they will immediately experience severe nausea, accelerated heartbeat, and general discomfort.
Once the vaccine has been administered it cannot be reversed.
A preclinical trial using mice to determine the correct dosing is due to begin next month with researchers hoping to begin tests on human subjects in November.
Dr. Juan Asenjo, director of the university’s Institute for Cell Dynamics and Biotechnology said while the vaccine is not a cure-all, it could provide an important first step.
He told the Santiago Times newspaper: “People who end up alcoholic have a social problem; a personality problem because they’re shy, whatever, and then they are depressed, so it’s not so simple.
“But if we can solve the chemical, the basic part of the problem, I think it could help quite a bit.
“In Chile, according to the most recent 2011 study from the World Health Organization, one in 15 men have an alcohol use disorder. “
Dr. Juan Asenjo believes the vaccine has the potential to help millions of people worldwide.
He added: “If it works, it’s going to have a worldwide impact, but with many vaccines one has to test them carefully. I think the chances that this one will work are quite high.”
Inspiration for the vaccine came from the far East, said Dr. Juan Asenjo, where between 15 and 20 pwer cent of Japanese, Chinese or Koreans have a mutation which inhibits the breakdown of alcohol in their bodies.
The idea of using drugs to combat alcoholism is not new.
Disulfiram, which was developed almost a century ago works in a similar way blocking the enzyme from breaking down alcohol, thus intensifying the body’s negative response.
However, users often find the effects so unpleasant they simply stop taking the pills.