“This could be a very big discovery,” said Fred Nyberg, a biologist at Uppsala University, to the Upsala Nya Tidning (UNT) newspaper.
Previous studies have shown that prolonged alcohol abuse can impede the growth of new nerve cells in parts of the brain connected to memory and cognitive functions.
But new studies looking at nerve cells of animals which have received opiates like morphine or heroin, as well as growth hormones, show that nerve cell growth does in fact take place.
“Now we're going to perform tests on a wider scale and on animals which have been exposed to alcohol,” Nyberg told the newspaper, adding that clinical trials on humans could be underway within a few years.
“We're already testing a growth hormone in cooperation with Uppsala University Hospital on one of their patients who has been taken opiates for many years because of pain. The results look promising.”
The studies are a part of a project involving Nyberg, other colleagues at Uppsala University, researchers from Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, as well as researchers from Helsinki, Finland