Scientists at the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego, California, have developed a vaccine intended to prevent addicts from experiencing the heroin "high." The drug is intended to make it easier for them to overcome heroin addiction.
The project, led by professor Kim Janda and postdoctoral researcher Paul Bremer, exposes the immune system to part of the heroin molecule's unique structure. The patient's body responds by producing antibodies that neutralize heroin molecules, keeping them from reaching the brain.
In testing involving four monkeys, each received three doses of the vaccine. All subsequently showed "an effective immune response" that neutralized heroin. The effect was most evident during the first month after the vaccinations, but persisted for eight months.
In a separate study, researchers tested the lasting effects of vaccinations that had been made seven months earlier. In this test, researchers found that antibody-producing cells had developed a memory of the vaccine. If the drug works the same way for sumans, people receiving the vaccine could develop a long-term immunity to heroin.
The current vaccine works only against heroin, which means addicts could still use - or abuse - opioid-based painkillers or other medications.
The institute is now considering licensing the new technology to a commercial partner for use in clinical trials on humans.
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