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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Heroin and HIV Vaccine

I.V. drug use is one of the number one causes of the spread of diseases like Hepatitis C and HIV. The use of clean needles is crucial which is why you no longer need a prescription to obtain syringes, clean needle exchanges in major cities is also important. At the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research scientists are working to develop a vaccine designed to treat heroin addiction as well as prevent HIV infection.

Dr. Gary Matyas recently received a $5 million pledge for work on the new dual vaccine by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The goal of the vaccine is to fight heroin abuse and the high risk of HIV infection among heroin use the drug intravenously.

“Heroin users have a high incidence of HIV, especially in regions of the former Soviet Union, South America and parts of Europe,” Dr. Matyas said. “If you can reduce heroin use, you can reduce the spread of HIV. That’s why we’re focusing on both heroin and HIV in one vaccine.”

Both parts of the vaccine are being developed separately, once they have shown to be effective on small animals the two vaccines will be combined. Hopefully, the vaccine could be ready to be tested in nonhuman primates in the next several years. The doctor explained that the heroin component of the vaccine is in a more advanced stage.

Small molecules that mimic heroin are being attached to the active component in the human tetanus vaccine by researchers. They are using what’s called a potent adjuvant formulation, a substance that enhances the immune system response. “This produces a very strong antibody response,” Dr. Matyas notes. “The antibody binds to heroin and prevents it from crossing the blood-brain barrier and producing a pleasurable effect.”

Researchers are basing the HIV component of the vaccine off of one that was tested in Thailand. The New England Journal of Medicine published that clinical trial in 2009, which was the first HIV vaccine study to show any efficacy, Dr. Matyas said. The study showed that the vaccines effectiveness rate was 31.2 percent, they are hoping to enhance its response rate.

Once the vaccine is commercially available, it will require booster shots in addition to the initial injection, according to Dr. Matyas.

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