Cocaine Vaccine Eats Up Drug "Like Pac-Man"

By McCarton Ackerman 05/13/13

A vaccine which builds up immunity to the drug has been used successfully on monkeys.

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How it works Photo via

An anti-cocaine vaccine that eats up the drug when it gets into the bloodstream has been successfully used on non-human primates, bringing it one step closer to being approved for use on humans. The vaccine, known as dAd5GNE, combines elements of the common cold virus with the particle GNE, which mimics cocaine. It prevents the dopamine high associated with taking cocaine by encouraging the body to treat the drug as an intruder and mount an immune response. Only 20% of cocaine consumed by the primates actually bound to their dopamine transmitters, which is well below the 47% threshold required to produce a "high" in humans. "The vaccine eats up the cocaine in the blood like a little Pac-Man before it can reach the brain," says Ronald G Crystal, lead author of the study and chairman of the Department of Genetic Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College. "We believe this strategy is a win-win for those individuals, among the estimated 1.4 million cocaine users in the United States, who are committed to breaking their addiction to the drug. Even if a person who receives the anti-cocaine vaccine falls off the wagon, cocaine will have no effect." However, further studies will need to be done in order to determine how effective the vaccine will be on humans and how often it would need administering. "An anti-cocaine vaccination will require booster shots in humans, but we don't know yet how often these booster shots will be needed," says Crystal. "I believe that for those people who desperately want to break their addiction, a series of vaccinations will help." In a separate study with results published last month, scientists used lasers to "turn off" cocaine addiction in rats' brains

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.