A newly-developed vaccine could potentially help heroin addicts kick their habit.
In an animal trial, scientists at The Scripps Research Institute in California were able to cure rats of heroin addiction with the vaccine, which prevents users from experiencing the euphoric effects of the drug, preventing it from reaching the brain.
The vaccine, which could be ready for human trials later this year, would likely make it impossible for an addict to overdose on the drug, because heroin and its byproducts are neutralized by the immune system before they can do any damage, says George Kobb, one of the vaccine's developers.
"We haven't seen any rats relapse," Kobb says. "We're guessing it would be unbelievably expensive for someone to try to overdose on heroin with this vaccine. It'd probably take a dealer's whole stash."
In the study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday, rats were allowed "unlimited access to heroin" for several weeks, and then detoxified for four weeks. The rats were then divided into two groups – one was immunized and one wasn't – and then reintroduced to heroin. Kobb says the experiment was designed to simulate a human undergoing a drug rehab program.
"The rats who were not vaccinated relapsed quickly, the vaccinated rats stopped taking it," he says. "In effect, what the vaccine does is prevent heroin from reaching the brain."
Kobb says each rat was given four booster injections. In humans, he suggests that several injections might be effective for a couple months. The team is currently seeking funding to begin human trials and Food and Drug Administration approval.