A protein-based gel capable of breaking down alcohol in the gastrointestinal system — thereby promising to reduce harm to the body and minimize the side effects brought on by alcohol consumption — has been developed by a team of scientists at ETH Zurich.

Alcohol undergoes a series of chemical reactions within the body with acetaldehyde being the first product formed during alcohol metabolism in the liver. Because it is toxic, acetaldehyde can result in health issues such as liver damage.

Source: Northstar Behavioral HealthSource: Northstar Behavioral Health

As such, the scientists developed a gel that promises to avoid this process and promises to instead transform alcohol into harmless acetic acids.

“The gel shifts the breakdown of alcohol from the liver to the digestive tract. In contrast to when alcohol is metabolized in the liver, no acetaldehyde is produced as an intermediate product,” the scientists explained.

Initially, milk-based protein was used to create the gel by boiling the protein for a couple of hours to create fibrils that would give a structural framework for the gel. To encourage those fibrils to connect, the team then added salt and water, which resulted in an easily digestible gel.

Recognizing that the gel would require the presence of several catalysts to break down the alcohol, the team subsequently used iron atoms as catalysts, which were evenly distributed on the surface of long proteins. The fibrils were then immersed in an iron bath so that they would react with the alcohol and subsequently convert it into acetic acid. To trigger the reaction, hydrogen peroxide was added, which was formed in the reaction between glucose and a small concentration of gold nanoparticles.

For now, the gel has only been tested on mice who experienced a decrease in alcohol levels of roughly 56% and a reduction in the accumulation of acetaldehyde.

The team noted that several clinical tests are still needed before the gel can be approved for human use.

An article detailing the research, “Single-site iron-anchored amyloid hydrogels as catalytic platforms for alcohol detoxification,” appears in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

To contact the author of this article, email mdonlon@globalspec.com