Contributed by guest blogger: Jessica Hughes ’11
It is well known that drug addiction is a worldwide problem, and so finding a therapy or cure for this issue would be extremely valuable. Scientists have been trying to create a vaccine for people with drug addictions that would allow them to be rid of their chemical dependence, but there are several challenges they face in trying to do so. First, addictive drugs are small molecules that do not cause an immune response on their own. Furthermore, because of the extremely high level of drugs often found in the blood of a systemic drug user, there needs to be a way to create high-titer, high-affinity antidrug antibodies to address that extremely high drug concentration. This second challenge has limited the effectiveness of many attempts at anti-addiction active immunization strategies.
In a 2010 study, researchers looked at creating an anticocaine vaccine with the help of adenovirus. With the knowledge that inhaled cocaine could not reach its target receptors in the brain when exposed to anticocaine antibodies, researchers looked into the possibility that cocaine addiction could possibly be reversed with an anticocaine vaccine. Here’s where adenovirus came in. Researchers knew that adenovirus gene transfer vectors act as potent immunogens, which provoke adaptive immune responses. They predicted that if they coupled the adenovirus with a cocaine analog, they could elicit high-titer antibodies against cocaine and successfully prevent this drug’s access to the brain. Specifically, they used a disrupted E1-E3- adenovirus gene transfer vector, which means they were able to avoid viral gene products that would pose a risk of infection to the vaccine receiver but still have the benefit of the immunogenic property of the vectors. E1-E3- has been used many times in gene transfer applications, proving to be very safe.
In their experiment, once they created the vaccine (called dAd5GNC), they used mice to test its effects. Both naïve mice and vaccinated mice were given cocaine intravenously, and subsequently their locomotor activity was observed. The administration of cocaine caused hyperlocomotor activity in mice. These effects were completely and consistently reversed for the vaccinated mice. This is a promising result, and further studies obviously need to be done to continue looking into the possibility of using anti-addictive drug vaccines. Some questions to think about: Would an anticocaine vaccine work in the real-life scenario of preventing an addict from relapsing? Could there be dangers with taking these vaccines, such as accidental overdoses of someone trying to obtain the feeling he/she is used to getting from the drug?