Scientists are reporting some success in developing a vaccine to treat methamphetamine addiction — one of the most serious drug abuse problems in the U.S. The report appears in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.
In their paper, Kim Janda of the Scripps Research Institute and his colleagues note that methamphetamine use and addiction cost the country more than $23 billion annually due to medical and law enforcement expenses, as well as lost productivity. The drug, also called "meth" or "crystal meth," can cause a variety of problems including cardiovascular damage and death.
Meth is highly addictive, and users in conventional behavioral treatment programs often relapse.
While the meth use and addiction has been growing at alarming rates over the past two decades, there is no approved pharmacotherapy exists for its treatment.
Immunopharmacotherapy has the potential to offer relief through highly specific antibodies that prevent drug penetration across the blood−brain barrier, thus decreasing reinforcement of the behavior.
Previously tested meth vaccines either are not effective or are very expensive. To overcome these challenges, the researchers made and tested new vaccine formulations that could potentially be effective for long periods, which would drive down costs and help prevent relapse.
The current immunotherapy efforts have focused on a single hapten structure - the hapten is a molecule that is incapable, alone, of causing the production of antibodies but which can do so when fastened to a larger antigenic molecule called a carrier.
On the basis of their previous studies with nicotine, the Scripps scientists show that introduction of strategic molecular constraint is able to maximize immune recognition of the target structure as evidenced by higher antibody affinity.
They say that three of their new formulations that produced a good immune response in mice (stand-ins for humans in the lab) were particularly promising. "These findings represent a unique approach to the design of new vaccines against methamphetamine abuse," say the researchers.