News / Science & Technology

Scientists Develop Experimental Vaccine Against Heroin

Jessica Berman
Scientists have developed an experimental vaccine to treat heroin addicts.  Such a vaccine would be a major advance for both public health and safety.  Addiction to the powerful, illicit narcotic not only destroys human lives, but also fuels a violent global drug trade.  

An estimated 20 million people around the world are addicted to heroin and related opiates.  Their addiction, and frequent use of contaminated syringes, put heroin users at risk of a variety of diseases - notably HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C.  They are also more likely to die prematurely, either from a drug overdose or the violence related to drug trafficking.

Drug relapse after conventional treatment for heroin addiction is an especially difficult challenge.  The experimental vaccine may prevent addiction even if a user is re-exposed to the drug.

The heroin vaccine developed by Kim Janda and colleagues at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California essentially tricks the body's immune system into thinking heroin is a pathogen, like a bacterium or virus.  

The experimental compound stimulates the production of antibodies that keep the drug from reaching the brain, which is where Janda notes the drug  produces the euphoric high that heroin addicts crave.

"So, it creates like a wall to block the drug from entering the brain, the pleasure centers," said Janda. "And when it’s in circulation, our own body has enzymes that degrade heroin.  And as it degrades it loses its ability to cross the blood-brain barrier, it loses its potency and eventually it’s just removed.”

Janda, a chemist and immunologist, says developing a vaccine against heroin has been especially challenging because the body rapidly metabolizes the drug into several byproducts, the last being morphine, the compound which actually triggers the high.  

So, researchers had to develop a pretty versatile vaccine - one able to empower the immune system to recognize and produce antibodies that bind to all of the breakdown products before they reach the brain.

In experiments with heroin-addicted rats exposed to an unlimited supply of the drug, Janda says the results were striking.  The drug-sated rodents were detoxified for one month, a period similar to a human going through drug rehabilitation.

Next, researchers divided the rats into two groups, again giving them as much heroin-laced water as they wanted.  Only this time, Janda says half the rats had been vaccinated against heroin.

“What happens if you don’t vaccinate them [is] they re-escalate and double the amount of intake," he said. "In the case of the [rats given the] vaccine, they completely don’t recognize the heroin at all and stop taking it.”

None of the vaccinated rats relapsed after being re-exposed to heroin.  

The National Institute on Drug Abuse, which has been interested in drug vaccine development, helped fund the research.

David Shurtleff, acting deputy director of the institute, says a heroin vaccine is not a "magic bullet" [complete cure] and would have to be used as part of a comprehensive treatment program that also addresses drug-seeking behavior.  Like heroin-addicted humans who continue to crave the drug even after going through treatment, Shurtleff notes that the vaccinated rats persisted for a while in trying to get high.

"Once they are in an environment where they've been using the drug, they start to crave the drug and they will use it even though the vaccine may kick in to prevent the high," said Shurtleff. "They will still try and attempt to take the drug to overcome the craving, to reduce the craving for the drug.  So, there's a lot of behavioral [elements] to addiction beyond what the vaccine can do."

Scripps investigators are currently seeking funding to begin human trials of the vaccine, possibly by later this year.

An article describing an experimental heroin vaccine is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  

You May Like

China Announces Corruption Probe into Senior Ex-Leader

Former security chief and member of Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, being probed for suspected 'serious disciplinary violation' More

India, US Look to Reset Ties During Kerry Visit

This week's talks will be first high level interaction between two countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge More

Video Young African Leadership Program Renamed to Honor Mandela

YALI program, launched by President Obama in 2010, aims to build skills in business, entrepreneurship, public management and civic leadership More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid