The study aims to recruit 96 recently abstinent volunteers with severe alcohol use disorder.

Study recruits volunteers to trial ketamine as new treatment for alcoholism

A study which aims to evaluate the use of the drug ketamine as a treatment for people with severe alcohol disorder, or alcoholism, is currently recruiting volunteers in the South West.

‘KARE’ (Ketamine for reduction of Alcoholic Relapse) was awarded funding through the Biomedical Catalyst, a joint initiative between the Medical Research Council (MRC) and Innovate UK to support translational research that will benefit human health.

The study aims to recruit 96 recently abstinent volunteers with severe alcohol use disorder, a condition which affects nearly four million people in the UK, often with devastating consequences.

A team led by Professor Celia Morgan, Professor of Psychopharmacology at the University of Exeter, will collaborate with researchers at University College London and Imperial College London to create a multi-site project in both the South West of England and London.

The participants will receive a low-dose of ketamine by injection once a week for three weeks in conjunction with seven 90 minute sessions of psychological therapy. Participants will receive travel expenses where needed.

Previous studies in mice suggest ketamine could produce changes in our brains that make it easier to make new connections and learn new things in the short-term. The team hope this could make the sessions of psychological therapy more effective.

A control group will receive the same amount of therapy but be given an injection of saline solution instead of ketamine so that the researchers can compare the results.

All participants will be asked to wear a device on their ankle that will monitor their alcohol intake over the following six months by measuring their sweat levels.

A pilot study found that three doses of ketamine in conjunction with psychological therapy reduced average 12 month relapse rates from 76 per cent to 34 per cent. It is thought that ketamine’s antidepressant properties could contribute towards this reduction.

When used in a controlled environment, ketamine is a safe drug and it is not addictive. It is commonly used as an anaesthetic in medicine but when used as an anaesthetic, the dose - which is often given several times over a much shorter period - is much higher than will be used in this particular study.

Participants may experience some effects such as changes in their vision and hearing during the infusion of ketamine, but any changes should be mild and people in other studies given similar doses have not found them to be unpleasant.

Project lead, Professor Celia Morgan from the University of Exeter, said “Previous research has told us that ketamine is a well-tolerated drug and can help alleviate the symptoms of depression, with a pilot study suggesting that it could cut alcohol relapse rates by more than half.

“This trial will allow us to examine whether ketamine, combined with therapy, can indeed help people stay abstinent from alcohol”.

Dr Kathryn Adcock, head of neurosciences and mental health at the MRC, added: “Alcoholism can have a terrible impact on both the individual and those around them, but current treatments for alcohol dependence are associated with high relapse rates – with people often returning to drinking after only a short time of abstinence.

“We are constantly looking for new ways to help change this pattern and we look forward to the results of this innovative trial.”

If you would like to find out more or are interested in taking part, please visit the KARE website

Date: 7 July 2016

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