Monday, October 17, 2011

Vaccines Being Developed to Prevent or Treat Addiction

Well, if they work for infectious diseases, why not?
Up to now, vaccines have been used effectively against a variety of infectious diseases, but what if they could be developed to treat and/or prevent addiction?

Take smoking, for example. Someone who wanted to quit would go through their usual lighting up routine, but when nicotine does not arrive in the brain, they would probably extinguish the cigarette and not light another. Without feeling nicotine's effects, it is likely they would view smoking as a waste of money.

Or consider a vaccine against methamphetamine: Snorted or injected, the drug would not give the user a high, so what would be the point of going to the trouble of scoring this illegal drug in the first place?

Now both vaccines, for nicotine and for methamphetamine, have gone beyond the dreaming stage. Recently, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) awarded "visionary" grants to 2 scientists who believe that in the not-too-distant future, vaccines will be available not just for smallpox and whooping cough but also for substance abuse.

Two scientists proposing to develop vaccines against methamphetamine and nicotine have been selected to receive NIDA's second Avant-Garde Awards for Innovative Medication Development Research.

The scientists, Thomas Kosten, MD, from Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas, and Peter Burkhard, PhD, from the University of Connecticut, Storrs, will each receive $500,000 per year for 5 years from NIDA to support their research.

Addiction vaccines could be life-changing for the estimated 22 million drug abusers in the United States. NIDA estimates that every year, addiction costs the country $84 billion in direct healthcare costs, lost earnings, crime, and accidents. The cost trend is rising, and researchers hope that addiction vaccines may reverse it, not only by treating addicts but also by immunizing young people before they become addicted.

Just like regular vaccines, substance abuse vaccines work by provoking the immune system to produce antibodies, which then causes the body to suspend and reject the drug before it reaches the brain. That is the goal, but thus far, success in humans has been elusive.
Clinical trials on these vaccines may start in five years.

They cannot be developed fast enough.
"Seven million people die from smoking addiction every year," Dr. Burkhard told Medscape Medical News, "that's like wiping out Switzerland. It's a tremendous step forward to have a vaccine to prevent smoking, not only for these 7 million who die but also for the other countless millions who are living with their smoking addiction."

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