A team of finalists in the St Petersburg University start-up competition is developing a plant-based drink to reduce the craving for alcohol.

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The authors of the Alkogord project have begun testing an unusual product at the Institute of Experimental Medicine. They are going to carry out several experiments with laboratory rodents to find out how efficient the components of the drink are in fighting alcohol dependence.

“Long alcohol abuse leads to the dysregulation of various neurotransmitter brain systems. This might ultimately result in the loss of control over the amount of alcohol consumed”, said Sergei Eresko. He is the captain of the team and studying for his Master’s in Biology. “That is the reason why our functional beverage includes components which can reduce alcohol cravings. They have a neuroprotective effect, and defend the cells of the nervous system”.

The main component is an extract of a succulent plant from the Kalahari Desert in South Africa. This is a plant which can reduce appetite by suppressing the production of ghrelin, also known as the “hunger hormone”. It is interesting that ghrelin regulates not only the feeling of hunger, but also alcohol dependence. The level of the hormone increases in the abstinence period and addicted people again reach for alcohol.

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Marat Airapetov is a Senior Researcher of the Department of Neuropharmacology at the Institute of Experimental Medicine and one of the co-authors of the project. He explains that when a person develops an addiction to alcohol, it results in changes in brain structure, in particular in the production of the neurotransmitter dopamine. There is a dramatic change in the activity of neurones with dopamine receptors and the level of this hormone with people who have been consuming alcohol for a long time. It is not always easy to regulate these changes with the help of pharmaceuticals as they often have various side effects.

“There is research which proves that the hormone ghrelin, the level of which is higher in people addicted to alcohol, can increase the activity of dopamine neurons”, said Marat Airapetov. “That is why the development of medication to reduce the level of ghrelin or block its connection with dopamine is one of the potential methods of treating alcoholism. “Alkogord” is a drink with a new and unique functioning mechanism, which has not yet been used in clinical practice”.

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The start-up team includes Olga Noskova, post-graduate student of Sociology, and Svetlana Zelianina, graduate student of Applied Ethics. Today, the team is busy with testing the drink on laboratory rodents, carrying out sociological survey of potential consumers, and promoting the product in social media. The young entrepreneurs are planning to complete the process of patenting and finalising the technical specifications for production in the near future.