New Hope For An Anti-Cocaine Vaccine

  • Share
  • Read Later

OK, so maybe there’s not an epidemic of coke-snorting mice in your neighborhood, but if there were, a new finding at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City could help them. It could also help millions of humans addicted to cocaine, heroin, opiates and even nicotine.

The study, published in the online edition of Molecular Therapy, involved the not-entirely-novel but always tantalizing idea of vaccinating an addict against a high. Eliminate the buzz, the thinking goes, and the appeal of the drug vanishes with it. In the new research, investigators, began with a chemical whose molecular structure is similar to cocaine and attached it to an ordinary cold virus that had been stripped of its ability to cause illness but not of its ability to trigger an immune response. (More on Does Suffering From Withdrawal Really Mean You’re Addicted?)

When the modified virus was next injected into laboratory mice, the animals’ blood produced high concentrations of antibodies to the altered virus. When the blood was then mixed with actual cocaine in a test tube, those antibodies bound to the drug. This suggested that in the mice’s systems, the antibodies would do the same, effectively tying up the cocaine before it could reach the brain.

To test that supposition, the researchers gave both immunized mice and control mice high doses of actual cocaine — proportionately equivalent to what a human addict would use. As they anticipated, the immunized mice  showed much less hyperactivity and other signs of intoxication that the ordinary mice did. Best of all, the effects of the vaccine lasted, on average, 13 weeks, which is far longer than other researchers have been able to achieve with other such inoculations. (More on The Most Dangerous Drugs? Alcohol, Heroin and Crack — in That Order)

“This is the first [cocaine vaccine] that will likely not require multiple, expensive infusions and that can move quickly into human trials,” said Dr. Ronald G. Crystal, Weill Cornell’s chairman of genetic medicine.

Even if the vaccine proves itself in those later studies, experts on addiction warn that it’s not a panacea. Addicts could try to overcome the immunological blockade by increasing their drug intake, leading to dangerous overdoses. What’s more, not every immune system reacts to every vaccine in the same way — particularly among people who are immune-compromised. Finally, killing the cocaine buzz does not do anything for the underlying psychology of addiction, and addicts are nothing if not resourceful; there are a lot of addictive substances out there, any of which could be substituted for the no-longer effective drug. Talk therapy, support groups and similar treatments are thus likely to continue to be part of any successful recovery.

Related Links:

Photos: Cocaine Country

Forget Pain Pills, Fall in Love Instead

Can’t Stick With a Resolution? Blame Your Brain