Scientists Develop Potential Cocaine Vaccine

Scientists at Weill Cornell Medical College’s Department of Genetic Medicine and their associates have identified a new vaccine that can potentially combat the effects of cocaine use. Researcher Martin Hicks and a team of pharmacology, neurobiology, and immunology experts created an effective vaccine by combining a specific part of the cold virus (known as the adenovirus), which does not pose a threat of illness, with a chemical that is structurally similar to cocaine. In their study, researchers injected the vaccine into mice that were subsequently given cocaine.

As a result, the vaccine effectively caused an antibody immune response in the mice, attacking the cocaine molecules and preventing them from reaching the brain and creating their powerful euphoric reaction. Furthermore, the mice’s immunity lasted over a long period of time (a minimum of 13 weeks) and worked equally well against varying amounts of cocaine (including amounts large enough for human ingestion or repeated dosages). Compared to the mice that were not given the vaccine, the vaccinated mice displayed significantly less hyperactivity after having ingested cocaine.

Naturally, the immune system does not have an efficient defense mechanism to prevent the potent narcotic effects of cocaine, but in the researchers’ laboratory, the vaccine was seen to immediately stop the drug’s narcotic process in test tube settings. The researchers believe that the vaccine may also be potentially successful in treating humans who suffer from addiction to cocaine as well as other substances including nicotine, heroin, and other opiates.

Although the vaccine has not yet been approved for use by the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the researchers expressed optimism at the prospect of its future acceptance. The novel vaccine could quickly and easily become the first available form of molecular therapy for cocaine addicts, according to the researchers. By creating an antibody immune response to cocaine, the vaccine would essentially subdue the ingested drug before it could even reach the brain—thereby ridding the process of dependency and cravings, and allowing the addict to eventually abstain.

However, the vaccine should not be considered as a magic bullet to cure addiction. While the mice in the researchers’ study showed immediate and strong levels of immunity, the same amount of the vaccine could possibly result in different levels and duration of immunity in humans, which clinical research will have to discover. For those with severe cocaine addiction, the withdrawal period would still require professional treatment for about two weeks, the neurological changes that the body and brain undergo lasts about six months, and the ability to persevere over dependency and risk of relapse by adjusting behavior and lifestyle routines takes approximately two years to reform.

Although the introduction of the new vaccine is a substantial development in the field of substance addiction clinical research, the vaccine will most likely become an incorporated element of the recovery process along with traditional methods, should it become approved by the FDA. Nonetheless, use of the vaccine may very well bring about dramatically improved recovery for the thousands of Americans dependent on the powerful drug.

The researchers’ study is currently available online in the scientific journal Molecular Therapy.

Source: HealthDay News, Vaccine Protects Mice From Cocaine's Effects, Study Finds, January 5, 2011

Posted on January 7th, 2011
Posted in Cocaine

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