Scientists have developed a drug that effectively stops cocaine from reaching the brain, according to new research in primates.
The study, published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, shows that the vaccine works by eating "up the cocaine in the blood like a little Pac-man before it can reach the brain," study researcher Dr. Ronald G. Crystal, who is the chairman of the Department of General Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College, said in a statement.
If replicated in humans, the vaccine would be huge in preventing the
"high" that comes from using cocaine -- thereby removing the incentive of taking the illicit drug.
Cocaine, heroin and prescription opioid painkillers are responsible for the most drug-related deaths in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cocaine was linked to 482,000 visits to the emergency department in 2008.
Researchers explained that cocaine produces its pleasurable effects in the body by blocking recycling of the "feel good hormone," dopamine, in the putamen and caudate nucleus brain regions. When the dopamine recycling is blocked, it collects at the nerve endings, which produces the "high" feeling.
The new vaccine actually contains some pieces of the common cold virus, as well as particles that look like cocaine to the body. When it's injected into the body, the immune systems mounts a defense to the vaccine since it sees the common cold virus, and also eventually builds an immune response to the cocaine-mimicking particle as well.
"The immune system learns to see cocaine as an intruder," Crystal said in the statement. "Once immune cells are educated to regard cocaine as the enemy, it produces antibodies, from that moment on, against cocaine the moment the drug enters the body."