Canadian microbiologist Frank Plummer has made great strides in the study of alarming epidemics like HIV and ebola. In his personal life, however, he has had a battle of his own with alcoholism. Plummer has decided to be a part of history by taking part in brain surgery to help treat alcohol use disorder.

What was Frank Plummer’s Alcoholism Like?

At the beginning of his research career in the early 1980s, Dr. Plummer would use scotch to help handle the stress, disappointment, and grief that came with his work. Additionally, he felt a lot of pressure to do something about the African HIV crisis that was unfolding. While making significant discoveries in Kenya, Dr. Plummer would self-medicate with five or six glasses of scotch a night. He also contributed to the development of Canada’s Ebola vaccine. The stressful 12-hour days would start with coffee and end with several glasses of scotch. Over time, his drinking worsened to 20 ounces of hard liquor a night.

How Did Frank Plummer Hit Rock Bottom?

In 2012, Dr. Plummer was diagnosed with chronic liver failure and had to get a transplant. To preserve the new liver, he had to watch his alcohol intake. Even though he tried several treatment options, including rehab, support groups, counseling, and medication, Dr. Plummer slipped back into drinking. This led to Dr. Plummer being in the hospital a lot and took an emotional toll on his family.

How Did Frank Plummer Become Involved in a Clinical Trial for Treatment?

Dr. Plummer was referred by two neurosurgeons at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital to be part of an experimental procedure using deep brain stimulation for alcoholism. Deep brain stimulation has already been used for Parkinson’s Disease in targeting motor circuits. For alcoholism, a similar technique would be used to target the reward and circuit sensors in the brain. This treatment would involve implanting an electrical device into the brain to stimulate circuits. Doctors would pinpoint abnormal activity and reset it. Dr. Plummer was the first patient, and six more would follow. This study helped Dr. Plummer improve his cravings and mood. However, patients still need to continue with conventional methods of treatment like therapy or rehab. Deep brain stimulation has the potential to repair brain damage linked to addiction.

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