A vaccine to block meth? It’s in the pipe line 

Cosmos Magazine


Cosmos is a quarterly science magazine. We aim to inspire curiosity in ‘The Science of Everything’ and make the world of science accessible to everyone.

By Cosmos

Scientists are inching closer to a viable vaccine to tackle methamphetamine addiction.  

Tests in mice models conducted by researchers at Victoria University have found a single dose of the drug can decompose the intenstinal wall, leading to the escape of proteins, toxins and inflammatory cells to the blood stream. 

When these substances cross the blood-brain barrier, it can cause inflammation that might lead to a range of mental health pathologies, including neurodegenerative disease like dementia.  This change to the gut microbiome, and the lining of the intestines, is also thought to bring about depression and anxiety.  

Upon these findings, Professor Vasso Apostolopoulos’s unit at VU began developing potential therapeutic options to tackle methamphetamine use. 

Five vaccine candidates have now been developed.  

“Around 95% of people who go to rehabilitation for meth relapse and use it again,” says Apostolopoulos.  

“It seemed like a logical next step to develop immunotherapy, which will help them to get over their addiction.”   

To achieve this, Apostolopoulos’ team needed to use an amphetamine molecule bound to oxidized mannan – a carbohydrate – which together would elicit an immune response to the drug. In mice, the vaccine triggers an antibody response to amphetamine and methamphetamine.  

Results from trials of two vaccines have now been released in the journal Vaccine with findings for the three other candidates yet to be published. However substantial work needs to be done to push forward with clinical trials in people. 

“Our next step is to compare and analyse all five vaccine candidates in greater detail,” Apostolopoulos says. 

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