We were recently featured on CBC Radio’s The Early Edition with Stephen Quinn! Our research assistant Negin Kazemian spoke on the utilization of nanotechnologies in detecting at-risk individuals who are physiologically predisposed to be exposed to opioids. We discussed the importance of human gut microbiota and its application for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes. A brief summary on the topic is provided below.

The problem:

Opioid abuse remains a serious social and economic burden, with an estimated 64,000 deaths in the United States in 2016, which has nearly doubled in a decade, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. A future goal is to utilize a simple blood test to detect opioid abuse and dependence/addiction. Opioid abuse, at least in theory, is supposed to alter the normal human plasma composition mainly due to the effects of opioid in the networks of genes, pathways, and gut microbiota patterns that could control a variety of phenotypes, metabolome, and proteome. Although the detection of disease-related proteins using proteomic characterization of human plasma has a great clinical relevance and may save millions of lives, the robust detection of important proteins (i.e., biomarkers) with a critical role in drug addiction induction and progression has not yet been clinically successful.

In addition, given the abundance of opioid receptors in the gut and the impact of opioids on gut motility, it stands to reason that opioids will have a significant impact on gut microbiota. Typically, the human microbiota remains stable for years. However, host lifestyle, including antibiotics, and diets can rapidly and broadly impact microbiota dynamics. Due to the close relationship between the gut microbiome and its host, the development of microbiome-based therapeutics (additive, subtractive or modulatory therapies) is attracting increasing interest. However, the development of such therapeutics for addiction treatment requires an extensive research program to investigate the causal relationship between the gut microbiome and addiction development and to identify the organisms and genes that affect the disease and their variability among individuals.

Our aim at solving the problem:

New research at UBC’s Okanagan campus, Harvard Medical School and the University of Texas is currently exploring the role nanotechnologies can play to reduce opioid abuse. Nanotechnologies can help address drug addiction by identifying the most at-risk individuals—those who are physiologically predisposed to be affected by opioids—and help develop new therapeutic targets and personalize appropriate treatments.

“Nanotechnologies can be designed to regulate brain-signaling pathways that are associated with drug addiction,” explains Dr. Pakpour. “And nanoparticles can be used to detect protein and microbial biomarkers in a person’s plasma, urine or saliva for successful and robust identification and discrimination of vulnerable individuals.”

“With the help of funding agencies together with collaborations between nanomedicine, human microbiome and drug-abuse experts, we believe that nanotechnologies will provide a unique capacity for both predictive and therapeutic approaches in opioid dependency and addiction in the foreseeable future,” she adds.