A team of Indian scientists revealed that it may be possible to predict a person's susceptibility to addiction and he may be warned from staying away from certain substances.
New avenues in predictive medicine have also opened up with scientists at the Indian Institute of Chemical Biology identifying the presence of genetic mutations (or abnormal changes in the genes) responsible for addiction.
"This is a study in the area of predictive medicine. If we can identify the mutation in a gene which has association with addiction and if it's present in an individual, then we can predict that he or she is prone to addiction," Sumantra Das of the Neurobiology Division at the Indian Institute of Chemical Biology (IICB), told IANS.
IICB comes under the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).
Several mutations are known to exist in genes encoding certain proteins called opioid receptors through which narcotics like morphine and heroin exert their effects.
These receptors are of several classes. Two of them - mu opioid receptors (MOR) and kappa opioid receptors (KOR) - have been known to be associated with drug addiction.
While morphine, which acts through the mu opioid receptor, is widely used in controlling chronic pain, it leads to addiction in individuals in several cases.
The group of scientists had previously identified prevalence of a mutation in MOR in addicts in Kolkata. This mutation, A118G, is found in various populations all over the world.
In a recent study published in Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry Journal, the group has also identified a mutation in the KOR gene.
"KOR mutations are thought to be effective only when present with the MOR mutations," co-researcher Deepak Kumar explained.
According to the researchers, the presence of both mutations increases the likelihood that the individual will be prone towards substance abuse.
The MOR mutation was detected by a process called RFLP and confirmed by a gene sequencing method called Sanger sequencing, whereas the presence of the KOR mutation was shown by the sequencing method.
"Now we have a tool in our hands. If we know both mutations are present, we can warn the individual or his relatives that he or she should be kept away from drugs and precautions have to be taken," said Das, who feels further research into the mechanism of action is needed to augment the study.
Speaking about the importance of such research, Kedar Ranjan Banerjee, founder of Kolkata's National Institute of Behavioural Sciences, said: "Genes have been associated with addiction and other mental health disorders for a long time. Studies like this will open up new frontiers in predictive medicine which is important."