Two Baylor College of Medicine researchers in Houston are working on a cocaine vaccine they hope will become the first-ever medication to treat people hooked on the drug.
"For people who have a desire to stop using, the vaccine should be very useful," said Dr. Tom Kosten, a psychiatry professor who is being assisted in the research by his wife, Therese, a psychologist and neuroscientist. "At some point, most users will give in to temptation and relapse, but those for whom the vaccine is effective won't get high and will lose interest."
The vaccine, currently in clinical trials, stimulates the immune system to attack the real thing when it's taken.
The immune system — unable to recognize cocaine and other drug molecules because they are so small — can't make antibodies to attack them.
To help the immune system distinguish the drug, Kosten attached inactivated cocaine to the outside of inactivated cholera proteins.
In response, the immune system not only makes antibodies to the combination, which is harmless, but also recognizes the potent naked drug when it's ingested. The antibodies bind to the cocaine and prevent it from reaching the brain, where it normally would generate the highs that are so addictive.