Could a new vaccine help recovering heroin addicts? Scientists at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Maryland have been testing this theory on mice for years. The study is in its preclinical stages now but Upstate Medical University doctors are hoping to test on humans by next year.
“There is a significant group, and we see them in the hospital, that have tried multiple times to get into remission, and it hasn’t worked. And so I think it’s important to try to take as many steps and try to pursue as many avenues as possible to try to come up with tools,” said Dr. Stephen Thomas, Chief of Infectious Diseases Division at SUNY Upstate and Principal Investigator of the study.
Once the mice get the vaccine, they develop an immune response to the drug, which prevents the heroine from entering into the brain. In turn, it stops any side effect of the drug from taking place, such as an overdose.
“It’s a very novel approach to tricking our body into developing, antibodies against a drug basically. So this is a very important, novel concept,” said Dr. Timothy Endy, Chair of Microbiology and Immunology and a researcher in the study.
A concept not too far off from the flu vaccine–except, in this case, those targeted are not people trying to recover.
“This would be one tool among many other tools in a comprehensive approach to substance abuse and recovery and addiction,” Dr. Thomas said.
Upstate is hoping to begin human testing by next year. Battling an issue that hits close for all involved.
“For me it’s a very personal issue, seeing my son struggle with heroin and overdosing three times from that,” said Dr. Endy.
Endy and the other researchers hope to stop the problem from getting worse for families in our area.
“When we look at the scope of the problem, if there are 100 people with substance abuse disorders and I can be part of making a tool that can help ten of them, that’s a huge, huge impact,” Dr. Thomas said.
Right now, the testing is still in its pre-clinical phase. Doctors at Upstate hope that will be approved by the FDA so they can start testing on humans for the clinical trials in 2020. The study will be funded by a $3.7 million dollar grant.