Could a vaccine be the solution for the Opioid crisis?

By Anirban Chakraborty

The Opioid crisis has presented an acute challenge for American public health policy, but pre-clinical studies conducted by researchers at the University of Minnesota Medical School and the Minneapolis Medical Research Foundation of Hennepin Healthcare have formulated vaccines for heroin and oxycodone, a prescription opioid, which could be a crucial development. The mechanisms of the vaccines involve stimulating the host immune system to produce antibodies that bind to and inhibit the respective drug molecules from reaching the brain and producing neurochemical changes. The application of these vaccines in rodents were found to reduce behaviors tied to addiction, such as self-administration of opioids, while also preventing symptoms of heroin overdoses, like respiratory depression, both of which have clear applications to human opioid abuse. Furthermore, the pre-clinical trials demonstrated that the devised vaccines could accompany other medications for addiction, such as naloxone, during treatment instead of being mutually exclusive, significantly expanding their applicability.

Furthermore, the researchers responsible for this innovation are attempting to increase the efficacy of the vaccination model and apply these treatment mechanisms to other opioids, such as fentanyl. As noted by Marco Pravetoni, Ph.D, the principal investigator of the study, “the road from the laboratory to the clinic is still long”. However, the recent findings show great promise in combating the deleterious effects of the Opioid crisis by ameliorating the physiological harms of overdoses and preventing drug molecules from eliciting neurological responses that can cause further drug abuse.


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