The possibility of immunotherapy treating heroin addiction

possibility of immunotherapy treating heroin addiction

Immunotherapy is the treatment of a disease by inducing, enhancing or suppressing an immune response. Immunotherapy tends to be used for the treatment of cancer by stimulating the immune system to reject and destroy tumors. Recently however, immunotherapy has been explored for its potential to inhibit the effects of heroin and help with heroin addiction treatment. While the use of immunotherapy was investigated for this purpose in the 1970s, it was not pursued because methadone and buprenorphine became available. Now, an experimental study from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health has found that a specific antibody may be able to reduce the acute effects of heroin.

Researchers looked into whether or not a monoclonal antibody could block heroin’s effects on the user. It is a fact that when the ingredients of heroin are metabolized by the blood stream it creates intoxicant effects. The researchers focused on one of the substances that heroin is converted into: 6-MAM. 6-MAM or 6-monoacetylmorphine creates the rapid and intense effect of heroin within the user. As the conversion of heroin into 6-MAM occurs mainly in the bloodstream, before it reaches the brain, researchers focused on seeing if binding antibodies to 6-MAM could prevent the drug’s intoxicant effects.

At this point there have been multiple attempts to make vaccines against heroin, morphine, cocaine, methamphetamine, nicotine and Oxycodone. Only the vaccines for nicotine and cocaine have been tested on humans. These drug vaccines are either passive vaccines, which utilized pre-formed antibodies or active vaccines, which stimulate antibody production in the body. These antibodies will bind to the drug in the bloodstream stopping the substance from reaching the brain.

Researchers recently conducted an animal study that focused on blocking the entrance of 6-MAM to the brain. They examined the effects of a monoclonal antibody (mAb) specific for 6-MAM through in vitro experiments in human and rat blood. The outcome revealed that the mice that were pretreated with the mAb toward 6-MAM displayed a reduction in heroin-induced locomotor activity, which corresponded closely to the reduction in brain 6-MAM levels. Intraperitoneal and intravenous administration of the anti-6-MAM mAb gave equivalent protection against heroin effects. In the end, researchers discovered that there was a clear correlation between the amount of 6-MAM antibody that was supplied to the test subjects, the inhibited transmission of 6-MAM to the brain and the reduced effects of the heroin.

The scientists involved in the study said the study showed that an antibody against 6-MAM effectively blocked the acute effects of heroin and that passive immunization could be possible. This also means that any future vaccines which are meant to combat heroin should be focused on blocking 6-MAM.

Immunotherapy could be an important cornerstone in the future of substance abuse treatment. Admittedly, much more research and development would need to be done before the vaccines’ effects can be evaluated on human beings, but it is a great first step in the right direction. This line of study does provide extra benefits for the future should it prove successful, as it could also be used as therapy for specific patient groups such as pregnant drug abusers or recovering patients who are in the vulnerable periods after detoxification when relapse is most common.

For teens who are struggling with addiction to heroin, it is best to seek out treatment as soon as possible. To learn more about treatment for adolescent boys you can visit or call 866-520-0905 for more information.

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