Vaccine for Cocaine Addiction May Cause Body to Attack the Drug as an Invader

Vaccine for Cocaine Addiction May Cause Body to Attack the Drug as an Invader

A new vaccine may bring new possibilities for people who hope to break free from cocaine addiction.

Researchers say the vaccine, recently studied in mice but planned for human clinical trials, could essentially cause the user to create immunity to the drug – cancelling out cocaine’s pleasurable and addictive effects.

Published in Molecular Therapy, researchers from Weill Cornell Medical College, genetic medicine department, say the vaccine could bring hope for cocaine addicts where other possibilities have failed. Weill Cornell researchers are especially hopeful because the process is one that could rapidly be adapted for trials for humans, leading the vaccine down a quicker path to FDA approval for cocaine addicts. Currently no formally approved vaccine is available for treating people with addictions to drugs.

Funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, ingredients in the vaccine tested on mice include pieces from the virus that causes the common cold and a particle that acts similar to cocaine. These ingredients created an immune response in mice, an antibody reaction that adheres to the cocaine before it goes to the brain. The vaccine causes the body to believe that the cocaine is an invader that must be stopped, an effect boosted by the cold virus. Over time, a person’s biologic immunity to cocaine could grow stronger and stronger until any attempts to use the drug are blocked by the body.

While the vaccine shows promise, it may not be perfect, warn experts. Cocaine addicts may attempt to bypass their body’s immune response by taking in even larger amounts of cocaine. Additionally, people’s immune responses vary, and there may be unique challenges for the vaccine for people whose immune systems are already weakened.

Cocaine users are drawn to its quick stimulating effect, which is known to contribute to dangerous behaviors. Like other drugs, cocaine causes changes at the brain level that make it highly psychologically addictive. The new vaccine prevents the boost of stimulation from cocaine, because the body begins to attack the drug as it would a virus. The immune-block effects of the vaccine endured for a considerable amount of time in the mice – more than three months, another favorable element of the vaccine.

The researchers have utilized only the elements of the cold virus that trigger an immune reaction, leaving behind those that are linked to symptoms of the illness. Overall, the mice that were injected with the vaccine and then given cocaine were not as active and stimulated as the mice who did not receive the vaccination. These results held true even when the mice took in continuous, larger amounts of cocaine, similar in proportion to the level a cocaine addict might consume.

Researchers associated with the study say the vaccine may have the strongest benefit for people whose cocaine addiction is already in full swing, but who want to recover. Clinical trials with humans are planned, and could lead to a new tool cocaine addicts could use along with other forms of addiction treatment.

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