A more traditional meth lab, via Man o’ Law
It’s like Breaking Bad, except instead of one chemist, one flunky, and one mean old hitman, this drug experiment will be handled by a trio of scientists hailing from some of the country’s top universities.
Three scientists are asking for your money so they can kickstart a meth lab. Because, who knows, crystal meth might have some positive side effects, right? That’s what Ethan Perlstein, an evolutionary pharmacologist at Princeton, and his two partners — a neurologist at Columbia and a biologist at Hunter College — intend to find out.
Grant funding for science is tight. Of the thousands of research grant applications sent to the National Institutes of Health, only 18 percent in 2011 were successful — down from 30 percent in 2003. Scientists, the team says in its pitch video, “are stuck in a closed free-Internet mindset.” That’s why Perlstein and his team are turning to the less traditional means of crowdfunding for the money they need to get their less-than-conventional idea off the ground.
Through a site called RocketHub — a Kickstarter for science projects, essentially — Perlstein launched a campaign on Oct. 4 to raise $25,000 for what he describes as a two-to-three-month “high stakes” experiment to study the effects of methamphetamines on the brain (or, in this case, mice brains). Although it’s known that meth boosts dopamine levels in people’s brains, science is “far from full, useful knowledge” of the drug, Perlstein argues in the team’s project description. On his blog, Perlstein shared a nice brief history of amphetamines research.
“Specifically, we need to know all of a drug’s interactions plus all the cascading effects these interactions on how brain cells function,” Perlstein writes. “Without complete, basic understanding, scientists won’t be able to create more effective, personalized treatments for brain diseases and addictions.”
That’s the goal of Perlstein’s team, called Crowdsourcing Discovery. By photographing radioactive brain cells of mice high on meth and observing them with an electron microscope, the scientists hope to show where the drug accumulates within those cells. It’s unclear where Perlstein’s crew will procure their amphetamines, but narcotics research is highly regulated and it’s highly unlikely that they’d actually be cooking their own.
Perlstein admits it’s merely a first step on a long path to understanding how our brains react to amphetamines. But with evidence that MDMA helps alleviate post-traumatic stress disorder, and that ketamine is the best way to treat bipolar disorder, and that LSD helps with depression, and that marijuana treats just about everything, it’s about time someone put meth under the microscope.
“How can we hope for new treatments to brain diseases and addiction without basic understanding?” the team’s pitch video asks. “Simple: We can’t.”
Perlstein’s lab at Princeton has produced pioneering new ways of thinking about genetic variation by studying how drugs impact on our physiology. His partner from Columbia, David Sulzer, has for two decades studied how drugs affect the brain. It’s unclear from the video whether Perlstein had proposed the idea for the experiment in academia before seeking money from the public.
People who donate $1,000 or more will get to help the team translate their research into intelligible English when it’s time to write out and publish the team’s research.
The team had surpassed the $10,000 mark by Oct. 29 — their third week on RocketHub. They’re aiming to hit $25,000 by Nov. 18. The money would pay for one full-time lab technician and the supplies and equipment they need to pull off the experiments. All the research will be open to the public.