Scientists Develop Vaccine To Treat Heroin Addiction

According to researchers at The Scripps Research Institute, an “immunopharmacotherapy” type of treatment for heroin could be on the horizon. Their proven research with animal models confirms that they have developed a vaccine that counteracts the heroin high.

Additionally, the antibodies produced by this new vaccine are also capable of preventing other psychoactive compounds that are metabolized from heroin from reaching the brain and producing euphoric effects.
“‘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,’ said the study's principal investigator, Kim D. Janda, the Ely R. Callaway, Jr. Chair in Chemistry and a member of The Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology at Scripps Research. ‘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.’”
Regrettably, authors of this study claim that heroin abuse and addiction are not only incredibly destructive to the addict, but to the world as a whole, as the cost of this disease is estimated at $22 billion in productivity loss, criminal activity, medical care, and social welfare, in the United States alone. Not to mention the high rates of HIV transmission due to needle sharing.

As a result, many other researchers have attempted to create such a vaccine without success partially because heroin is an elusive target that metabolizes into multiple substances that all generate psychoactive effects. Because of this, researchers in this study developed a vaccine that targets a chemical called 6-acetylmorphine (6AM) and morphine in addition to heroin. And, like heroin, 6-acetylmorphine (6AM) easily crosses the blood-brain barrier to latch onto opioid receptors in the brain. Essentially, the vaccine produces antibodies that neutralize a constantly changing target.
“The researchers linked a heroin-like hapten (a small molecule that elicits an immune response) to a generic carrier protein called keyhole limpet hemocyanin or KLH, and mixed it with Alum, an adjuvant (vaccine additive), to create a vaccine "cocktail." This mixture slowly degraded in the body, exposing the immune system to different psychoactive metabolites of heroin such as 6AM and morphine.”
Researchers observed differences in rats injected with a vaccine that acted on morphine alone in comparison to the dynamic vaccine, which acted on several chemical compounds. Results showed that the dynamic heroin vaccine created an immune response that generated strong polyclonal antibodies against heroin.
“In addition, the study found that addicted rats were less likely to "self-administer" heroin by pressing on a lever after several booster shots of the vaccine. Only three of the seven rats that received the heroin vaccine self-administered heroin. In contrast, all of the control rats, including those given the morphine vaccine, self-administered the drug.”
Fortunately, the heroin vaccine is highly specific as it only produces antibodies in response to the heroin and 6AM, therefore it will not interfere if used in combination with other treatments, such as methadone, naltrexone, and naloxone.

“The Scripps Research team has recently begun an exciting collaboration with researchers at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research to see if it is feasible to develop a dual-purpose vaccine against HIV and for the treatment of heroin addiction in a single shot, Janda said.”
Scientists Create Vaccine Against Heroin High

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Binge Drinking Among Young Adults May Be Causing Serious Brain Damage


A new study from the University of Cincinnati has shown that binge drinking among adolescents and young adults may be causing serious damage to their developing brains.

Researchers examined high-resolution brain images of 29 weekend binge drinkers between the ages of 18 and 25. For the purposes of their study, researchers consider binge-drinking as consuming four or more drinks at once for females and five or more drinks for males.

Results showed that binge-drinking was linked to a thinning of the pre-frontal cortex, a section of the brain responsible for paying attention, planning and making decisions, processing emotions and controlling impulses leading to irrational behavior.

A study of the brain's gray matter, the part of the brain that does the thinking, receiving and transmitting of messages, revealed the possibility that it may be affected differently than the brain’s white matter. Evidence already exists that binge drinking is associated with reduced consistency in the white matter, a tissue through which messages pass between different areas of gray matter within the nervous system, however there may be serious affects on the grey matter, regions in the brain involved in muscle control, sensory perception, memory, emotions, and speech.

Tim McQueeny, a doctoral student in the UC Department of Psychology, is concerned that binge-drinking in one’s early 20s may be altering brain development, thereby permanently damaging the way in which the brain functions.

Unfortunately, past research has focused more on male pathological and adult populations, therefore research on the affects of binge-drinking among young adults is seriously lacking.
“We're looking at developmental aspects at an age when binge drinking rates are highest, and we're also looking at gender effects," says McQueeny. "There might actually be indications of early micro-structural damage without the onset of pathological symptoms such as abuse, or dependence on alcohol."
Additional research is needed to educate people on the dangers of binge-drinking in young adulthood in order to prevent permanent damage. For instance, preliminary evidence in this study does suggest that increased abstinence from binge drinking may in fact help in the recovery of damaged gray matter. In addition, drinking just below binge level may also be less harmful.

Although the results of this small sample seem devastating, binge-drinking at that age appears to be widely accepted and very little attention is given to the threat that it may be to the developing brain, therefore further investigation may be quite eye-opening.

A few statistics according to MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving)…

  • Parents' drinking behavior and favorable attitudes about drinking have been positively associated with adolescents' initiating and continuing drinking.
  • Youth who drink before age 15 are four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence than those who begin drinking at age 21.
  • An early age of drinking onset is associated with alcohol-related violence not only among persons under age 21 but among adults as well.
  • Research continues to show that young drivers are more often involved in alcohol-related crashes than any other comparable age group. Alcohol-crash involvement rates, share of the alcohol-crash problem and alcohol-crash risk all reach their peaks with young drivers, with the peaks for fatal crashes occurring at age 21.
  • Each year, college students spend approximately $5.5 billion on alcohol- more than they spend on soft drinks, milk, juice, tea, coffee and books combined.
  • Teenagers are not well informed about alcohol's effects. Nearly one-third of the teens responding to a 1998 American Academy of Pediatrics survey mistakenly believed that a 12-ounce can of beer contains less alcohol than a standard shot of distilled sprits.
  • The median age at which children begin drinking is 13. Young people who begin drinking before age 15 are four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence than those who begin drinking at age 21.
  • More than 40 percent of individuals who start drinking before the age of 13 will develop alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence at some point in their lives.
Possible Brain Damage in Young Adult Binge-Drinkers Revealed in New Study
Statistics Relating to Impaired Driving and Youth from MADD U.S.

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