News / Health

Scientists Make Progress on Cocaine Vaccine for Addicts

Researchers have developed a cocaine vaccine that could eventually offer addicts another way to break their habit. The vaccine prevents the drug from stimulating the brain's biochemical reward center.

In 2008, the United Nations estimated there are between 16 million and 38 million so-called "problem drug users" in the world, including people who are addicted to cocaine.

Beyond psychological counseling and support groups, experts say, there is no treatment for cocaine addiction.

Now, U.S. researchers say they have developed a vaccine that may someday help a sizable portion of cocaine addicts kick their habits.

The vaccine, made of proteins from a harmless cold virus and a molecule that mimics cocaine, sequesters the drug and keeps it from reaching the brain's reward center, according Ronald Crystal of the Department of Genetic Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York.

Crystal led a team of researchers that vaccinated mice and then injected them with cocaine. "We gave it repetitively to the mice, every week.  So, …think of somebody going to a party and having their cocaine once a week and it never touched the mice. So, week one, week two, week three, week four, we keep giving them cocaine; the mice just sit there like you gave them water," he said.

The vaccine's anti-cocaine effects lasted for 12 weeks in the mice experiments. Crystal said it is likely that booster vaccines would be needed to maintain the beneficial effect in a recovering human addict.

At least one other cocaine vaccine is in human trials, but so far studies show it is only about 40 percent effective in suppressing the craving for cocaine.

Crystal says his vaccine appears to be highly effective, at least in mice, because it's combined with a viral particle that the body is highly attuned to.

"Our immune systems react very rapidly and with great vigor toward the viruses, and the cold virus is at the top of that category.  And so by taking an adenovirus that we then ripped it apart, we were actually using pieces of an adenovirus, that's what we hooked the cocaine to," he said.

The work by Crystal and colleagues was funded by the US National Institute on Drug Abuse.

NIDA Director Nora Volkow says the challenge with developing a cocaine vaccine has been getting the immune system to recognize the drug as an invader because the cocaine molecule is so small.   

Volkow says a similar approach using an adenovirus could be used to develop vaccines against other addictive substances, including heroin. "What would be modified is the compound that you go after, because it has a very chemical structure; so a vaccine that works for cocaine will not work for heroin and vice versa," she said.

Vaccines for substances such as cocaine, heroin, alcohol and tobacco could go a long way in helping addicts break their habits.  

They could also help countries deal with the fall-out of addiction, including drug trafficking violence, soaring health costs and lost worker productivity.  

Cornell-Weill researcher Ronald Crystal thinks human trials of the vaccine could begin in one to two years.    

An article describing the cocaine vaccine is published in the journal Molecular Therapy.

You May Like

Nearly Every Job in America Mapped in Detail

A nifty map pinpoints practically every job in the United States, revealing the economic character of America’s metropolitan areas, which also helps to inform the local culture

Corruption Busting Is Her Game

South African activist is building 'international online community of thousands of corruption fighters'

Former SAF Businessman Gives Books, Love of Reading to Students

Steve Tsakaris now involved in nonprofit Read to Rise, which distributes books in Soweto, encourages lower-grade primary school students to read

This forum has been closed.
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.
With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?i
Carol Pearson
November 29, 2015 1:23 PM
The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video In Cambodian Capital, Political Motives Seen Behind Canceled Water Festival

For the fourth time in the five years since more than 350 people were killed in a stampede at Cambodia’s annual water festival, authorities canceled the event this year. Officials blamed environmental reasons as the cause, but many see it as fallout from rising political tensions with a fresh wave of ruling party intimidation against the opposition. David Boyle reports from Phnom Penh.

Video African Circus Gives At-Risk Youth a 2nd Chance

Ethiopia hosted the first African Circus Arts Festival this past weekend with performers from seven different African countries. Most of the performers are youngsters coming form challenging backgrounds who say the circus gave them a second chance.

Video US Lawmakers Brace for End-of-Year Battles

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. And, as VOA's Michael Bowman reports, a full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video After Terrorist Attacks, Support for Refugees Fades

The terrorists who killed and injured almost 500 people around Paris this month are mostly French or Belgian nationals. But at least two apparently took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to sneak into the region. The discovery has hardened views about legitimate refugees, including those fleeing the same extremist violence that hit the French capital. Lisa Bryant has this report for VOA from the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

As Thailand takes in the annual Loy Krathong festival, many ponder the country’s future and security. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs