UK receives $6 million grant to research cocaine addiction

An aerial view of the University of Kentucky campus.
An aerial view of the University of Kentucky campus. File photo

A group of University of Kentucky researchers has won a $6 million grant to further develop a potential treatment for cocaine abuse.

UK College of Pharmacy professor Chang-Guo Zhan, along with UK professors Fang Zheng and Sharon Walsh, and Wake Forest University professor Mei-Chuan Ko, are researching new therapies for overdose and addiction.

“Dr. Zhan’s groundbreaking work in this field cannot be overstated,” interim dean Kelly M. Smith said. “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.

“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 1.9 million Americans were using cocaine in 2008. UK officials said that in Kentucky, 70 or more people died from cocaine overdoses in 2013 and 2014, up significantly from 24 cocaine-related deaths in 2011.

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

Linda Blackford: 859-231-1359, @lbblackford