Skip to content
Ibsa Foundation gel anti-alcol
Paolo Rossi Castelli05 Jun 20242 min read

Alcohol: gel invented that reduces damage

Researchers at ETH Zurich have created a gel that could reduce the damage caused by alcohol abuse:  it “captures” the toxic substances in alcohol and neutralises them.

Alcohol consumption is known to be harmful to health, as many studies have demonstrated (even though society often pays little heed to this). Small quantities impair both our ability to concentrate and our reaction times (with an increased risk of road accidents), while continually drinking large quantities can cause liver disease, sometimes serious, inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, and even cancer, as the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in Lyons has established. According to the World Health Organization, about three million people worldwide die each year because of excessive alcohol consumption. Yet alcohol use is extremely widespread, and in some countries is actually rising.

Reducing the harm from alcohol

In an effort to limit damage, bioengineers at the Laboratory of Food & Soft Materials at ETH Zurich, headed by Raffaele Mezzenga, have invented a possible remedy - a gel - based on an innovative principle: to block the alcohol (specifically, ethanol, the alcohol most widely present in alcoholic drinks) in the stomach and neutralise it there, transforming it into a harmless substance (acetic acid), before it can pass from the stomach to the liver, where it would be turned into acetaldehyde, a toxic substance responsible for tissue damage.

An anti-alcohol substance: iron atoms and gold nanoparticles

As reported in the scientific journal Nature Nanotechnology, the researchers created the anti-alcohol gel using whey proteins, which were left to boil for several hours until they formed long, thin fibrils. To break the alcohol down, however, the gel required several other components. The researchers in Zurich thus used individual iron atoms, which were evenly distributed over the surface of the long protein fibrils. They also added nanoparticles (about a billionth of a metre in size), this time of gold. The gel's complete “recipe”, therefore, includes whey protein fibrils, iron, gold and sugar. With this formula, the anti-alcohol substance can be ingested.

A 56% reduction after 5 hours

To check its effectiveness, researchers tested the gel on animals: they were given doses of alcohol for ten days, each time having previously ingested the gel. Thanks to the gel, it took only 30 minutes following the ingestion of alcohol for its concentration to fall by 40%, and five hours for it to fall by 56%. Furthermore, as expected, the production of acetaldehyde was greatly reduced. There was also less damage to the liver, spleen and intestine compared to those animals that were not given the gel. It also improved the metabolism of fats (one of the first to be affected by alcohol).

Unlike other products available on the market - the researchers pointed out - the gel combats not just the symptoms of the harmful consumption of alcohol, but also its causes. However, it can not combat alcohol dependence, nor the desire to drink alcohol, and can only help if ingested before consuming alcohol, because once the alcohol is circulating through the body, the gel's action is no longer of any use. Yet, if taken before consuming ethanol, it seems able to mitigate its effects. Further tests are needed, but the patent has already been applied for and, if all trials proceed as hoped, in future, those wishing to drink alcohol can protect their health by first ingesting a dose of gel.


New call-to-action New call-to-action Follow us on LinkedIn


Paolo Rossi Castelli

Journalist since 1983, Paolo has been dealing with scientific divulgation for years, especially in the fields of medicine and biology. He is the creator of Sportello Cancro, the site created by on oncology in collaboration with the Umberto Veronesi Foundation. He collaborated with the pages of the Science of Corriere della Sera for several years. He is the founder and director of PRC-Comunicare la scienza.