How a Deeper Understanding of Genomics Can Help Unlock Clues to Opioid Addiction


The study of addiction is, in a word, complex. The history of addiction is long and complicated, but at no point in time have addictive substances ever been so attainable – and in fact, so widely accepted – among the greater population.

What can the science of genomics tell us about who is most likely to become addicted, and how? And how can researchers use that information to develop potentially less addictive drugs, or to treat addiction itself?

 Close up of scientist hand holding glass dish


Genetic Differences in the Addicted

For more than a decade, scientists have been conducting large-scale studies to pinpoint genetic markers that may indicate that certain people are predisposed to addiction. Over time, researchers have discovered several genetic variants that can be linked to addiction including those within the potassium signaling pathways, calcium signaling pathways, and recently within chromosomes themselves. A 2018 discovery actually pinpointed a correlation between a chromosome near the RGMA gene and addiction; RGMA is a gene already known to be linked to several psychiatric disorders.


How Genes Dictate Addiction

The RGMA gene, for example, signals nerve fibers within the body. Simple molecular changes can easily disrupt these circuits, which is oftentimes how psychiatric diseases such as schizophrenia and autism work. The same could be true drugs entering the system, although researchers aren’t yet certain. By studying the properties of the gene within a subsector of genomics known as proteomics, scientists are gathering more information about what alters the genes and in which specific ways. Once they determine exactly how a gene will behave under specific conditions, there’s hope that less addictive prescription medications could be developed to circumvent negative reactions altogether.


The Factors Behind Opioid Addiction

Opioid addiction, specifically, is very complicated. Because opioids aren’t always “illicit” in nature, it’s difficult to stop the spread of addiction in circumstances in which the medications are legally prescribed. Scientists believe that somewhere between 40-60% of a person’s risk of addiction is owed to their genes, but a single factor can make someone’s propensity to become addicted spike. The newly-significant RGMA variant, for example, seems to predict addiction in African Americans with far greater accuracy than in those of European descent. While working to find gene markers, scientists are simultaneously working on developing drugs that attach to pain receptors in very specific ways. New information on how different receptors and genes react to drugs introduced into their environment could go a long way toward creating non-addictive drugs on an almost individual level.

IMCS is a leading name in proteomics. We’re advancing automated, high-throughput protein discovery with some of the largest life science companies in the world; our flagship product, IMCStips, is a patented solid phase technology that achieves higher binding capacities and consistent, reproducible results.


For more information on IMCS’ role in helping stop the burgeoning opioid crisis, or for technical details on our loose resin tips, reach out to our team today.