Researchers are hailing a breakthrough in the creation of a heroin vaccine announced Tuesday that scientists hope will help addicts “forge a path to abstinence.”
The study is the culmination of eight years of research between scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) and Virginia Commonwealth University. Researchers successfully tested a heroin vaccine on non-human primates that blocks the psychoactive effects of the drug that give users a “high” and feed addiction, reports KGTV.
Scientist say the vaccine is the first of its kind to clear the hurdles of preclinical trials. The next step is to partner with an outside company to conduct clinical trials of the vaccine.
“This validates our previous rodent data and positions our vaccine in a favorable light for anticipated clinical evaluation,” Kim Janda, the study leader at TSRI, said Tuesday, according to KGTV. “We believe this vaccine candidate will prove safe for human trials.”
The primates tested did not experience any adverse side effects from the vaccine. The drug appears to immunize recovering addicts from the effects of heroin, meaning they can no longer use it to get high. It works by conditioning the immune system to create antibodies that prevent heroin molecules from reaching the brain, blocking the euphoric flood of dopamine the drug gives users.
Primates given three doses of the vaccine were inoculated from the effects of heroin for up to eight months. The findings suggest the drug will have long lasting effects on addicts and potentially prevent future relapses. Mark Thomas, an addiction researcher at the University of Minnesota Health Sciences, was initially wary of the vaccine but said while it will not be a cure all for addiction, it may help users, “forge a path to abstinence,” reports Newsweek.
The researchers stress the vaccine is specifically designed to block heroin molecules from reaching the brain and will not work to treat addiction to other opioids.
Drug overdoses are now the number one cause of death for Americans under 50. The New York Times recently culled through data from state health departments and county medical examiners and coroners, predicting there were between 59,000 and 65,000 drug deaths in 2016.
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