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Drug Treatments

Researchers Say They’ve Developed an Effective Heroin Vaccine

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posted 02:17 AM EST, Thu July 21, 2011

Researchers at The Scripps Institute say they’ve got an experimental heroin vaccine in the works, and based on the results of animal testing experiments, it looks like it just might work.

Drug abuse vaccines work by teaching the immune system to recognize certain drugs as molecules to be targeted for destruction. If the immune system can target and destroy a drug that is consumed, (like cocaine, nicotine or heroin) before it can exert its effects in the brain, then there is little reason for a person to use drugs. In this way, researchers hope that drug vaccines might prove effective tools in a personal battle against drug addiction.

Scientists have been working on a heroin vaccine for a while, but previous attempts have shown little promise. The problem has been that heroin is metabolized by the body very quickly into a number of psychoactive substances, all of which work together to create the heroin high.

So the Scripps team developed a vaccine that would target not only the heroin molecule, but also the chemical compounds that heroin degrades into, such as morphine and 6-acetylmorphine, and initial animal testing indicates that this new approach works very well.

  • Heroin addicted rats which were given the vaccine developed antibodies to heroin and its metabolites and after vaccine administration pressed a heroin self administration lever less frequently than heroin addicted rats who were not given the vaccine.

In commenting on the success of the vaccine, lead study author Kim D. Janda, raved about the possibilities, saying, "In my 25 years of making drug-of-abuse vaccines, I haven't seen such a strong immune response as I have with what we term a dynamic anti-heroin vaccine. It is just extremely effective. The hope is that such a protective vaccine will be an effective therapeutic option for those trying to break their addiction to heroin."

The full study results can be read in the current edition of The American Chemical Society's Journal of Medicinal Chemistry.

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Story Highlights
  • Heroin Vaccine: Take a vaccine and you'll no longer be able to get high from heroin.
  • Animal Testing Looks Good: Rats given a heroin vaccine used less heroin than unvaccinated rats.
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