Heroin Vaccine Shows Promise in Ending Addiction
It has been said that if God created anything more pleasurable than heroin, he kept it for himself. The powerful drug notoriously grabs hold of users more tightly than any other intoxicant, fueling a suffocating addiction that ruins lives, communities and even entire nations. Scientists have tried numerous programs for freeing addicts from the hold of the needle, but like many diseases, it seems a vaccine might be the most effective cure.
The heroin vaccine developed by the Scripps Research Institute prevents heroin from chemically interacting with a user's brain, effectively disarming its ability to get someone high. Unable to experience drug induced euphoria anymore, a vaccinated addict becomes more willing to quit their habit.
"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 Kim D. Janda, the Chair in Chemistry at the Scripps Research Intitute and a leading researcher on the project. "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 ."
The new study, published recently online ahead of print by the American Chemical Society's Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, demonstrates how a novel vaccine produces antibodies that stop not only heroin but also other psychoactive compounds metabolized from heroin from reaching the brain to produce euphoric effects.
Attempts by other researchers over the past four decades to create a clinically viable heroin vaccine, however, have fallen short, in part due to the fact that heroin is an elusive target metabolized into multiple substances, each producing psychoactive effects. But the results showed that the rats rapidly generated robust antibodies in response to the dynamic heroin vaccine.
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.
While injection drug abuse is a debilitating worldwide epidemic, heroin abuse and addiction are especially destructive, with costs estimated at $22 billion in the United States due to loss of productivity, criminal activity , medical care, and social welfare, the authors say in their study. Heroin abuse and addiction are also driving forces in the spread of HIV through needle sharing.
"We saw a very robust and specific response from this heroin vaccine," said George F. Koob, chair of the Scripps Research Committee on the Neurobiology of Addictive Disorders and a co-author of the new study. "I think a humanized version could be of real help to those who need and want it."