Main | Friday, January 07, 2011

A Cocaine Vaccine?

Scientists are testing a vaccine that causes the body to treat cocaine like an attacking virus and thereby keep it away from the brain.
So far, the vaccine has only been tested on mice, but the results are extraordinary. Mice given the vaccine no longer exhibited any of the hyperactive signs of a cocaine high when they were next given the drug. The vaccine was created by taking just the part of the cold virus that alerts the body's immune system to its presence, and then researchers connected the signaling mechanism to a more stable version of the cocaine molecule.

Once the mice received an injection of the vaccine, they started producing anti-cocaine antibodies which targeted and destroyed any cocaine that then entered their system. Normally, cocaine does not produce an immune response, leaving it free to wreak havoc on the brain and body of whoever takes it. But the cold virus segments taught the immune system to treat cocaine like a hostile invader, offering a nearly impregnable wall of protection from the cocaine's effects.
All kinds of ethical implications are raised by this research, of course. For example, should it be legal for parents to immunize their children against the pleasurable effects of some drugs without ever knowing if that person was capable of responsible use?

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