San Diego researchers announce 'vaccine' for heroin

In the midst of an opiate addiction crisis sweeping the nation, researchers at La Jolla's Scripps Research Institute have unveiled a new vaccine that they say takes the 'high' out of heroin. 

The first-of-its-kind vaccine targets the immune system, exposing it to part of the heroin's molecule structure. And much like when you get a flu shot, the immune system 'learns' how to produce antibodies that neutralize the heroin, blocking it from giving the user a sense of euphoria. 

The researchers found injecting using rhesus monkeys with three doses of the vaccine resulted in an "effective immune response" and was able to neutralize varying doses of heroin. The vaccine was most effective in the first month, but the preventative effects lasted for over eight months. 

"This validates our previous rodent data and positions our vaccine in a favorable light for anticipated clinical evaluation,” said study leader Kim Janda, the Ely R. Callaway Jr. Professor of Chemistry and member of the Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology at TSRI.

Researchers hope that if their vaccine makes it through human trials, it could help addicts from relapsing into drug use. 

“We believe this vaccine candidate will prove safe for human trials,” Janda said. Janda points to components of their vaccine that has already been approved by the FDA or have made it through safety tests in previous clinical trials. 

According to the NIH, 52,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2015, with two thirds of those caused by opioid abuse. 

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