Binge drinking 'cure' in rats sparks a debate over animal study

The best way to avoid the ill effects of binge drinking is to stop binging on alcohol. But a scientific team in the U.K. has been garnering headlines with their claim that they found a compound that can allow the binging without the resulting loss of brain cells that can by triggered by inflammation. And they're claiming that the same research could apply to Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia, triggering a debate over just what kind of conclusions should be drawn from animal studies.

The compound is ethane-beta-sultam. And when the team, led by Professor Mike Page and Carl Hemming, applied it to rats living on a regimen of binge drinking, they found that it helped prevent inflammation in the hippocampus as well as a loss of cells from the damage that was done.

Professor Michael Page

"One of things that alcohol does is to destroy some of the brain cells which are important for navigation and orientation," said Page. "But a combination of alcohol and our compound could overcome this damage."

A skeptical blog post from the National Health Service noted that there are a lot of reasons to avoid binge drinking, including the damage done to the liver. The government group also chided the Mail Online for highlighting the link to Alzheimer's, noting that there's a considerable stretch in drawing far-reaching conclusions from an animal study. The real trouble may be the university's release, though, which the NHS concludes was "rather overexcited."

"This research shows there may be a way to reduce the harmful effects of excessive alcohol consumption on brain cells, and potentially protect against associated deterioration in brain function," the NHS concludes. "However, none of this was conclusively proven in rats or humans, so the headlines suggesting a 'cure for binge drinking' in people are premature."

- here's the release

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