For the past few years, there has been buzz that medical researchers are developing a drug addiction vaccine that can block cravings in a person’s system. And recent media reports point to the fact that this medication is closer than ever to becoming a reality.
Dr. Ronald Crystal, a researcher at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, has led a team to develop not one, but two separate vaccines to combat cocaine addiction. According to Crystal, the first vaccine contains viral proteins that introduce the body’s system to a cocaine-like molecule that immune systems perceives as a threat and produces anti-cocaine antibodies. These antibodies block the cocaine from reaching receptors in the brain that produce highs, making the drug essentially worthless to a user. The second vaccine is built on the same premise – to block cocaine from reaching brain receptors – but instead uses gene therapy to prompt liver cells to produce antibodies inherent in the genetic material. Crystal claims that while these vaccines are built specifically for cocaine addiction, they can be engineered to fight against anything from nicotine to heroin.
And Dr. Crystal is not alone in the race to produce the first successful drug addiction vaccine for humans. Dr. Kim Janda, a researcher with Scripps Research Institute, has developed a heroin medication that has been successful in animals. The researchers linked a heroin-like molecule to a generic carrier protein called keyhole limpet hemocyanin or KLH, and mixed it with Alum, a vaccine additive, to create a “cocktail.” This mixture slowly degraded in the body, exposing the immune system to different psychoactive metabolites of heroin.
Of course, should any of these vaccines pass tests with humans, it will still be years before they are available. And although it would certainly be a step in the right direction to have such treatments available, a vaccine would not combat many of the emotional and mental issues rooted in addiction. Furthermore, only someone trying to quit would take the initiative to receive such a vaccine and that person would still require a medically supervised detox and experience withdrawals. So, while an addiction vaccine is an answer to many of the issues in drug addiction, it’s not necessarily the answer and it might not be effective unless rehab treatment is sought for some of the other problems that people face when trying to overcome an addiction.
What do you think? Are you excited for this type of drug or are you skeptical it will provide a real solution to addiction?