A groundbreaking research started in 2020 and led by the UP Manila National Institutes of Health (NIH) is hoped to provide a deeper understanding of the neurobehavioral effects of toluene addiction.
Toluene, the main component of rugby and a commonly abused inhalant in the Philippines, has been a longstanding concern. However, this study is the first of its kind in the country that aims to generate a comprehensive knowledge of toluene addiction while exploring novel treatment options.
The research team consists of renowned scientists and researchers from various institutions. They are Dr. Rohani Cena-Navarro, NIH Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee Chair who leads the project, Dr. Gregory Quirk from the University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine, as supervising scientist, and Dr. Grace Gregorio from UP Diliman Institute of Chemistry, with the following as members:: Dr. Maria Stella Giron from the UP College of Medicine, Dr. Joselito Pascual from the Philippine General Hospital, Dr. Jesus Emmanuel Sevilleja from the National Center for Mental Health, Project Technical Specialists Jariel Bacar and Johanna Munar from the NIH National Training Center for Biosafety and Biosecurity, Project Assistant Arturo Bermejo III, and MD-PhD scholars Joannes Luke Asis and Ajina Carampel.
The three-year multidisciplinary research program entitled “Novel Approaches to Treatment of Addiction and Depression using Animal Models” is funded by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST). The project’s goal is to establish the first Addiction Science Program Laboratory that will focus on using animal models to study the neurobehavioral effects of toluene addiction and develop effective treatment strategies.
According to Dr. Navarro, “Attempts to treat toluene or ‘rugby’ addiction have been largely unsuccessful due to severe withdrawal and craving symptoms that trigger relapse. What is needed to help adolescents overcome their addictions are new treatments that reduce toluene withdrawal and craving.” While rodent models have been utilized in developing treatments for other addictive drugs, Navarro noted that no model has been developed for toluene. “This collaboration between scientists and clinicians hopes to address this societal problem using laboratory animals,” she added.
The study also aims to assess the impact of toluene exposure and subsequent withdrawal on anxiety, memory, and social functions in adolescent rats. The researchers aim to explore novel pharmacological and behavioral interventions that can mitigate these effects.
By the end of the project, Dr. Cena-Navarro and her team hope to develop an effective treatment for adolescents struggling with toluene addiction. Furthermore, the researchers plan to expand their research by exploring the effects of other inhalant addictive drugs with the goal of improving addiction treatment and mental health outcomes.