A team of researchers from the University of Houston may have developed a “vaccine” that blocks the ability of the dangerous synthetic opioid fentanyl to enter the brain.
The findings, published late last month in the journal Pharmaceutics, were described as a potential game-changer in the fight against an epidemic that has claimed the lives of thousands of people in the United States.
Fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. A dose of just 2 milligrams – the size of two grains of rice – could potentially be fatal.
The study’s lead author, Associate Research Professor Colin Haile, said the vaccine is able to generate “anti-fentanyl antibodies that bind to consumed fentanyl and block it from entering the brain, allowing it to to be eliminated from the body through the kidneys.”
“Thus, the individual will not experience the euphoric effects and can ‘get back on the train’ to sobriety,” he said.
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He added that anti-fentanyl antibodies were specific for this and that a derivative of fentanyl did not cross-react with other opioids like morphine. This means that someone vaccinated against fentanyl could still be treated with other opioids.
Although opioid use disorder (OUD) is treatable, around 80% of people who are dependent on opioids suffer a relapse, according to research.
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Clinical studies on the vaccine did not cause adverse side effects in the immunized rats concerned. The research team will manufacture clinical-grade vaccines with human clinical trials in the coming months.
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