Researchers at the Scripps Research Institute have created a vaccine that stops the high one gets from from heroin. Designed as a therapeutic option for those trying to break their addiction, the vaccine produces antibodies that stop heroin as well as other psychoactive compounds metabolized from heroin from reaching the brain to produce euphoric effects.
Previous efforts to create a clinically viable heroin vaccine have struggled because heroin is metabolized into multiple substances that each produce psychoactive effects. To overcome this problem the researchers, led by the study’s principal investigator, Kim D. Janda, targeted not just the heroin itself, but also the chemical it quickly degrades into, 6-acetylmorphine (6AM), and morphine.
They linked a heroin-like hapten (a small molecule that elicits an immune response only when attached to a large carrier) to a generic carrier protein called keyhole limpet hemocyanin (KLH), and mixed it with Alum, a vaccine additive, to create a vaccine “cocktail.” This mixture slowly degraded in the body, exposing the immune system to different psychoactive metabolites of heroin such as 6AM and morphine.
“Critically, the vaccine produces antibodies to a constantly changing drug target,” said G. Neil Stowe, who is first author of the new study. “Such an approach has never before been engaged with drug-of-abuse vaccines…”
The team also found that the heroin vaccine was highly specific, only producing an antibody response to heroin and 6AM and not to other opioid-related drugs tested, such as oxycodone, and drugs used to treat opioid dependence, such as methadone, naltrexone, and naloxone.
“The importance of this is that it indicates these vaccines could be used in combination with other heroin rehabilitation therapies,” said Janda.
“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,” Janda added. “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.”
Hope against hope. I’ve never held out a lot for junkies. That goes back to some work I volunteered for a couple centuries ago [or so it feels in retrospect].
I witnessed an amazing amount of success with some pretty damaged kids – those emotionally damaged by society and family. Never did see anything comparable with those self-damaged by chemical dependency.