Scientists Develop Vaccine To Treat Heroin Addiction

Posted on 7/22/2011 by meg

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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