Researchers Develop Cocaine Vaccine
Scientists at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian have been developing a vaccine that they believe can help people suffering from Cocaine addiction to stop using. The research behind creating vaccines for illicit drugs has been a topic of discussion and research for the past 20 years. Recently, the medical community has been making splashes in the world of drug treatment by moving forward with human trials for a Cocaine vaccine.
Cocaine Use in the United States
Made from the coca plant in South America, Cocaine was once thought to be a helpmeet for those battling with depression by a group of psychologists, including Sigmund Freud. After its entrance into society, though, its addictive properties became clear and it became infamous for its negative side effects.
Cocaine is known for its euphoric effects, making the user feel talkative, energetic, mentally alert and sensitive to light and sound. It also causes a slew of health problems, such as irritability, panic, paranoia, tremors, increased heart rate and blood pressure, abdominal pain, nosebleeds, seizures, strokes and death.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, illicit drug use costs the United States an average of 193 billion dollars every year. Studies also show that more than 2 million people in the United States are affected by Cocaine dependency, and a 2011 report from the Drug Abuse Warning Network shows that out of 1.3 million emergency room visits for drug misuse and abuse, Cocaine use was involved in 505,224 cases— that equates to about one in every three visits for drug use.
The Vaccine for Cocaine
There are drugs available for those struggling with an Opioid dependency to taper off their drug of choice, but nothing specific to Cocaine or other stimulants as of yet. Until now, that is.
The researchers at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian are hoping that the vaccine they’ve developed, which has had success in the animals they’ve tested, will prove to be effective in humans as well.
The vaccine, called dAd5GNE, links a particle that mimics the structure of Cocaine to a virus, such as the cold virus, which, when injected into the body, causes the body to send out antibodies to attack the virus and Cocaine mimicking particle. The goal is to help the human body create enough antibodies to attack Cocaine as it enters the human body before it’s able to reach to brain, thereby stopping the user from experiencing a high.
Dr. Ronald Crystal, a pulmonologist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center and chairman of the department of Genetic Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine, stated, “The goal of this vaccine is to prevent Cocaine from reaching the brain. While we know that this works very well in animals, now we need to find out if the vaccine will cause enough anti-Cocaine antibodies to be produced so that it works in humans, too.”
Other vaccines in the past have aimed at blocking the receptors in one’s brain so that when the substance enters the body, it has nothing to bind to. Scientists are hoping that this new approach of having the body react to a substance the same way it reacts to a virus will be a better and more effective way to treat Cocaine dependency.
The study, which researchers estimate will take 3 years to complete, is going to take 30 people who are addicted to Cocaine and, in groups of ten, conduct a double-blind study. Seven of the participants in each group will receive the vaccine, while three will receive a placebo. Before taking part in the study, participants must not use Cocaine for 30 days before getting the vaccine, and must agree to meeting with investigators several times a week to check for safety and health.
While they are going through the study, participants will also be going through more traditional treatment, such as going to a Cocaine rehab, in order to help them get all the help they need.
Dr. Ronald Crystal hopes that the vaccine will help those seeking to stop their drug use from relapsing. On this topic, he stated, ““While there are drugs like Methadone designed to treat Heroin, there aren’t any therapeutics available to treat Cocaine addiction. We hope that our vaccine will change that.”
The vaccine will be injected every four weeks for a total of six injections, and the participants will continue to be under observation for an additional 3 months after the round of injections are complete.
© 2017 Laura Zitar