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How mutant worms could help alcoholics

Scientists say they might have found the key to developing new ways of treating people with alcohol problems: worms.

Yes, worms! Neuroscientists created mutant worms that don't get intoxicated from alcohol. They say their research could help doctors make new drugs to treat humans with drinking problems. (Via Getty ImagesYouTube / How to Fish)

So, how did these researchers manage to make worms that can't get drunk? 

According to a new study published Tuesday in The Journal of Neuroscience, scientists with the University of Texas at Austin inserted a modified human alcohol target — or a molecular channel that binds alcohol in the brain — into the worms.

Now, when you normally stick a worm in a Petri dish with alcohol in it, it won't move from side to side as much and will crawl much more slowly. But when scientists put these mutant worms in the same dish, they acted as they did without the alcohol.

HealthDay points out this is the first time scientists have modified a human alcohol target to prevent intoxication in an animal without affecting other important functions, like regulating the activity of nervous system cells.

One of the study's authors told The Verge, "...the way we tweaked it did not perturb the normal function of the target, allowing it continue functioning normally in the worm's brain."

And researchers say they hope they can use the same idea to develop drugs to treat people who are addicted to alcohol by counteracting its intoxicating and potentially addictive effects. (Via Getty Images)

The study's co-author even suggested this alcohol target could be used to develop a "James Bond"-type drug that could allow someone to out-drink another person without feeling intoxicated. (Via MGM / "The World Is Not Enough")

But even the study's authors don't know exactly what that treatment could look like. One said in a press release from the University of Texas: "Our findings provide exciting evidence that future pharmaceuticals might aim at this portion of the alcohol target to prevent problems in alcohol abuse disorders. However, it remains to be seen which aspects of these disorders would benefit."

Researchers say any drug of this nature is a long way off from human trials. But they say they will conduct further studies on the topic in the near future.

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