Opinion

Latimer: Coming soon—vaccines that are able to treat addictions

It’s not exactly the same as the flu, but we have been explaining that addiction is an illness for a long time.

Now researchers believe they are close to the creation of vaccines to block the effects of some substances on the brain.

Although we’re likely a few years away from anything available for human use, scientists at Cornell University have created a vaccine that successfully blocks the effects of cocaine in the brains of mice.

This study, published in January in the journal Molecular Therapy, examined the effects of a vaccine developed by bonding cocaine to a disrupted cold virus.

When mice were injected with the vaccine, their immune system activated in response to the disrupted virus and then created antibodies specific to cocaine.

Results were very promising – the vaccine appeared to effectively stop cocaine from entering into the brains of the mice and also significantly reduced the drug’s effects on the behavior of the mice.

When cocaine was administered intravenously to mice with the vaccine, the drug levels in their brains were more than 40 per cent lower than mice receiving the same amount of drug but no vaccine.

Serum drug levels were then increased by more than five times in the mice with the vaccine and after one minute, tests showed 76 per cent of the cocaine was associated with antibodies produced by the mice.

A second test measured the amount the mice moved around after receiving the drug.

Those with the vaccine moved significantly less than the non-vaccinated mice. Not only did their immune systems create antibodies, but this seemed to be effective at blocking the effects of the drug.

The same tests were performed three and six weeks later with similar results.

Clearly there are many more studies to be done before a similar vaccine can be marketed for human use, but researchers are hopeful the results may be similar in humans and could lead to a new medical approach for some drug addictions.

This study was specific to cocaine, but its authors believe similar vaccines could likely be created for heroine or even nicotine as well.

It will be interesting to follow the development of such products and also to see what the behavior results would be among human subjects.

Would immunity to addictive substances result in a reduction in drug seeking or in the amount of drug ingested? Or would addicted individuals simply take more of the substance to attempt to receive its effects?

It certainly has the potential to be another excellent tool in the quest to help people break free from some of these destructive addictions.

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