Two New Vaccines Could Cure Cocaine Addiction
Researchers from the Weill Cornell Medical College in New York have found two promising vaccines that could block cocaine from ever reaching the brain. These new treatments are still in their early stages but both have already been effective in treating addiction in mice and monkeys.
One of the vaccines introduces a molecule that looks like cocaine but has some of the qualities of a virus. It is completely harmless, but once the body sees this, it starts producing anti-cocaine antibodies. Once vaccinated, an addict’s body will seek out and destroy any cocaine it finds.
The other vaccine injects genetic material into the addict’s liver. The affected liver cells then begin producing proteins with that the body can use as a guide to producing anti-cocaine antibodies.
Both vaccines have tested very well. They are able to find and neutralise cocaine before it can reach the brain. "If the vaccine works, then it would block the cocaine from reaching the brain and they wouldn't feel anything," said Ronald Crystal the lead researcher at Weill Cornell Medical College.
The only potential problem with the vaccine would be if addicts try to overwhelm it. If they took a large enough dose, the body may not be able to deal with the high level of cocaine before it took effect. Despite this worry, Cristal said the vaccine would do an immense amount of good.
"Cocaine addiction is a major social problem. It causes changes to behaviour, it's expensive and it's illegal," Crystal said. "It's very difficult to stop. If we could successfully develop a cocaine vaccine it would really be a very positive social advance."
Both vaccines are affective for around 4 months which means a single injection would get addicts through detox, and carry on working for long enough to help break many negative habits. That means a vaccine could be coupled with more traditional treatments or in less severe cases, used as a treatment on its own.
If all goes well with their testing, researchers hope to bring the vaccine into human trials within a year. Successful testing in humans would also mean a whole new range of vaccines. Scientists could simply use the same delivery system to create vaccines to drugs like heroin or meth. "We could hook heroin to it [this harmless virus], or meth," Crystal said. "We've shown that it works for cocaine, and we think that it could work for a whole variety of drugs."