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Researchers Test Anti-Cocaine Vaccine, Taps Immune System to End Addiction

23 January 2015, 5:00 am EST By Rhodi Lee Tech Times
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Scientists have taken a new approach that could potentially end problems with cocaine addiction. In a decades-long search for a vaccine that could fight drug abuse, scientists came upon one that can potentially annul the addictive buzz of cocaine.

The vaccine, which was reported in the journal Molecular Pharmaceutics on Dec. 22, was developed by researchers from The Scripps Research Institute in California. It works by tapping on the natural immune system of the body to reduce the high produced by cocaine.

The vaccine harnesses a bacterial protein known as Flagellin to trigger the immune system to attack and fight the drug once it enters the body. As a result, the cocaine's psychotropic effects are dulled which could potentially help cocaine addicts kick off the dangerous habit.

Cocaine addiction poses a number of unwanted and potentially deadly health effects. The substance increases blood pressure and heart rate. It also reduces coronary blood flow and is associated with the formation of clots. In the U.S., the drug is responsible for more U.S. emergency visits compared with other illicit drugs. Cocaine likewise damages the brain and the lung and can cause sudden death.

Figures from the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) show that 1.4 million individuals took cocaine in the U.S. The cost of substance abuse in general likewise exceeds $600 billion per year.

While there are a number of therapies available that could be helpful to drug abusers trying to quit their damaging habit, drug addiction can be very difficult to beat. This is the reason why scientists work on vaccines that can neutralize the high inducing effects of these drugs.

Earlier attempts for anti-cocaine vaccine did not involve flagellin and were not very successful. The new vaccine, however, was very promising based on tests with mice. It worked better in mice compared with another vaccine candidate that the researchers have earlier developed.

"Reasoning that flagellin could serve as both carrier and adjuvant, we modified recombinant flagellin protein to display a cocaine hapten termed GNE. The resulting conjugates exhibited dose-dependent stimulation of anti-GNE antibody production," study researcher Kim Janda, from The Scripps Research Institute, and colleagues wrote.

The vaccine has only been tested on mice but the researchers are optimistic that the strategy they have employed can open up new avenues for the development of vaccines that are designed to fight against drug abuse.

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