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The project is funded via the National Institute on Drug Abuse Translational Avant-Garde Award and will help push a promising new therapy for overdose and addiction closer to clinical trials.

“Dr. Zhan’s groundbreaking work in this field cannot be overstated,” said Interim Dean Kelly M. Smith. “There currently is no FDA approved treatment for cocaine overdose or cocaine addiction, and Dr. Zhan and his research team are trying to change that. Developing such therapies would be a major breakthrough for health care.”

Previously, Zhan's team designed and tested CocH1, an enzyme that specifically breaks down cocaine in the bloodstream without producing harmful byproducts in the body. In this new project, the team will evaluate a novel enzyme called CocH-LAF for its ability to neutralize cocaine in the bloodstream using molecular modeling technology.

Thus far, the new enzyme has been tested for its efficacy and has demonstrated a significantly improved efficiency against cocaine compared to CocH1. In addition, it has a longer biological half-life, meaning the treatment will eliminate the cocaine from the bloodstream much quicker than the previous version.

faculty member with student

Further Development

"This next stage of our research is promising, showing that the enzyme has extended function in the bloodstream," Zhan said. "We envision that this therapy could eventually become a viable treatment option for cocaine abuse."

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health has reported that approximately 1.9 million Americans were using cocaine in 2008. In Kentucky, 70 or more people died from a cocaine overdose in 2013 and 2014, up significantly from 24 cocaine-related deaths in 2011.

Taking cocaine can result in severe health issues, including cardiovascular issues (disturbances in heart rhythm and heart attacks), neurological effects (strokes, seizures, headaches, and coma) and gastrointestinal complications (abdominal pain and nausea). Currently, there are no marketed treatments for cocaine overdose or addiction.

“Dr. Zhan's research is a compelling example of how UK—as the University for Kentucky – continually strives to improve lives in our community, by developing treatments to fight back against the crippling nature of addiction," said Dr. Eli Capilouto, President of the University of Kentucky.

Zhan will serve as the principal investigator but will work closely with Zheng, Walsh, and Ko on the project.

Full Press Release can be found at UKNOW

We wish to remember and honor those who inhabited this Commonwealth before the arrival of the Europeans. Briefly occupying these lands were the Osage, Wyndott tribe, and Miami peoples. The Adena and Hopewell peoples, who are recognized by the naming of the time period in which they resided here, were here more permanently. Some of their mounds remain in the Lexington area, including at UK’s Adena Park.

In more recent years, the Cherokee occupied southeast Kentucky, the Yuchi southwest Kentucky, the Chickasaw extreme western Kentucky and the Shawnee central Kentucky including what is now the city of Lexington. The Shawnee left when colonization pushed through the Appalachian Mountains. Lower Shawnee Town ceremonial grounds are still visible in Greenup County.

We honor the first inhabitants who were here, respect their culture, and acknowledge the presence of their descendants who are here today in all walks of life including fellow pharmacists and healthcare professionals.