Dr. Ron Crystal, a researcher at Cornell University’s Weill Cornell Medical College, is working on a vaccine to treat cocaine addiction. The inspiration for the project came to Dr. Crystal in an unusual way: As he was walking by a new stand, he happened to see a copy of the magazine, “Newsweek,” with the words, “addiction vaccine” printed on its cover.
The idea took hold with Dr. Crystal. He started thinking about the possibility of linking an addictive molecule, such as cocaine, to a cold virus or certain parts of a cold virus. If successful, he thought, there was a potential to “trick the immune system” into thinking that the addictive molecule was a cold virus. The body would respond by developing an immunity to the cocaine.
How the Vaccine Works
The vaccine induces antibodies in the body. When someone snorts cocaine, the antibodies bind it up and prevent it from reaching the brain. As a result, the user doesn’t experience the “rush” or sense of euphoria associated with cocaine use.
The vaccine would render cocaine ineffective as a way to get high. Without the physical and psychological rewards associated with cocaine use, it may be easier to stop using the drug.
Cocaine Vaccine Wouldn’t Stop Cravings
The cocaine vaccine wouldn’t stop cravings that an addict experiences. A person would still need to undergo addiction treatment to learn strategies for coping with them.
Human Trial Starting Soon
The cocaine vaccine has already been successful in animal trials. Dr. Crystal commented recently that experimental animals can be given a shot of cocaine “and it doesn’t touch them at all.”
Dr. Crystal and his research team are currently recruiting people for a human clinical trial, which will involve 30 participants. This part of Dr. Crystal’s research is expected to be completed next year. If the first human trial proves successful, it will still be a number of years before a vaccine for cocaine addiction is available on the market.