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Vaccinating Against Opioid Use Disorder and Abuse?

Study Seeks to Develop Vaccine to Produce an Immune Response to Opioids

With funding provided by a grant from the National Institutes for Health, a research team at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center is seeking to develop a vaccine that would stimulate the patient’s immune system to produce antibodies that would attack an ingested opioid. If successful, the approach could present a new therapeutic avenue to combat opioid addiction and abuse. Opioid molecules do not naturally produce an immune response and would need to be conjugated to carrier proteins to trigger antibody production. In the study, the team plans to work with bacteriophage virus-like particles (VLPs) as carriers, artificial protein structures that they hope will produce enduring antibodies with smaller vaccine doses. Collaborating researcher Naomi Lee, PhD, assistant professor of chemistry at Northern Arizona University, said, “We believe that these are features that are likely required for effective vaccine-based treatment for opioid use disorder.”

The pilot project will seek to identify chemical derivatives of morphine, oxycodone, and hydrocodone on the VLP surface that prompt the expression of high titer antibodies. Dr Lee continued, “Our vaccines will be assessed for immunogenicity in mice over a range of doses and immunization schedules to assess the titers of antibodies elicited by our vaccines, the longevity of the antibody response and the optimal dosing and immunization schedule to achieve long-lasting and high titer antibodies to the drugs of interest.” Results from the pilot study will then guide decisions for a full research proposal seeking NIH backing.

Read about the research findings.

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