Swiss perspectives in 10 languages

Zurich researchers develop gel that renders alcohol harmless

In the future, the gel could be used to drive home safely after a few drinks.
In the future, the gel could be used to drive home safely after a few drinks. Keystone / Martial Trezzini

A research team at the Federal Institute of Technology ETH Zurich, has developed a gel that suppresses the effects of alcohol by preventing it from entering the bloodstream. It has been tested on mice who drank alcohol without harm. Clinical tests are still required before the product can be authorised for human use.

The substance, which has been developed by researchers at the Federal Institute of Technology ETH Zurich, breaks down alcohol in the gastrointestinal tract before it enters the bloodstream, according to a study published on Monday in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

“Our technology could offer a novel solution in the fight against the global problem of alcohol abuse,” said researcher Raffaelle Mezzenga.

Toxic effects on the liver

When alcohol is consumed, it passes through the stomach and intestine, where it is absorbed into the bloodstream and then transported to the liver. This is where most of the alcohol is broken down. The liver contains enzymes that convert alcohol into various substances, notably acetaldehyde and acetic acid. Acetaldehyde is toxic and destroys the liver.

+News: New gel developed in Zurich renders alcohol harmless

“The gel transforms the alcohol into acetic acid without producing acetaldehyde,” explains Mezzenga. If it is ingested before or during alcohol consumption, it transforms it before it enters the bloodstream. “But if the alcohol is already in the blood, it’s too late”, explains the researcher.

Scientists see various areas of application for the gel. According to Mezzenga, it would be interesting “for people who don’t want to give up alcohol, but who don’t want to overload their bodies and who aren’t interested in the intoxicating effects of alcohol. You could drink a few glasses of alcohol and drive your car in complete safety”.

Reducing the consequences of alcohol

Above all, the gel should help to reduce alcohol-related deaths: “Under no circumstances should it encourage excessive consumption”, stresses the researcher. It is estimated that excessive alcohol consumption kills more than three million people every year.

“We have clear evidence that our technology reduces the negative effects of alcohol in organs such as the liver and intestines”. In trials with mice, the animals showed less weight loss, less liver damage, better blood values and less damage to the spleen and intestines.

“We plan to carry out clinical trials soon” in order to obtain authorisation for use in humans, said Mezzenga. The scientists have already filed a patent application for their gel.

The gel is made from whey proteins, a by-product of the cheese-making process, cooked for several hours to form long, fine fibres.

The scientists then add salt and water as a solvent, and the fibres cross-link to form a gel. Iron, glucose and gold are then added to the gel. All of this triggers a cascade of reactions that transforms the alcohol into acetic acid.

Adapted from French by DeepL/amva

Popular Stories

Most Discussed

In compliance with the JTI standards

More: SWI certified by the Journalism Trust Initiative

You can find an overview of ongoing debates with our journalists here . Please join us!

If you want to start a conversation about a topic raised in this article or want to report factual errors, email us at

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR