Printer Friendly

Vaccinations against Bad Habits.

Plastic surgery for the right nose or breast, Ritalin to improve concentration, antidepressants to ward off sadness. What about vaccinations against vices? In the 10 June 2000 issue of The New Scientist, Philip Cohen calls attention to an emerging series of studies suggesting that the immune system might be mobilized to prevent addictive drugs from producing their characteristic high ("No More Kicks," pp. 23-26). If vaccinations against addictive drugs prove workable, addicts might have a much simpler, more effective, and easily used medical tool for helping them overcome addiction, parents might have a powerful new way to thwart their children's bad behavior--not by threatening punishment, but by eliminating the reward--and society could open up a new front in the war on drugs--not on their production or sale, but on the demand for them.

The earliest research on these vaccinations was conducted in the 1970s. An anti-heroin vaccine given to rhesus monkeys apparently eliminated the monkeys' interest in the drug, but only for a few weeks, and only after dozens of inoculations. The idea was abandoned in favor of other therapies for heroin addiction. In recent years, however, vaccines have been developed for cocaine, nicotine, and PCP and have given very promising early results. Also, the new vaccines are have not required intensive inoculation regimens. According to Cohen, five companies are in the advanced stages of animal tests against a variety of drugs, and the British company Cantab Pharmaceuticals has nearly completed testing an anti-cocaine vaccine for safety in human drug users. Cantab's trials have reportedly generated promising therapeutic results, and efficacy tests are planned.

Most of the vaccines work by generating so-called "active immunity." The research subject is injected with molecules designed both to mimic the drug and stimulate the immune system to produce antibodies. When the real drug is present in the bloodstream, the antibodies bind to it and prevent it from crossing the blood-brain barrier. A few of the vaccines provide "passive immunity" instead of or in addition to active immunity. Rather than stimulate antibody production, these vaccines provide the body with antibodies produced in the lab. The synthetic antibodies can be designed to achieve an especially powerful response against the drug; however, the passive immunity they provide is shorter lived. Researchers believe that the anti-cocaine vaccine now in human trials may provide some level of active immunity for as long as a year.

Cohen also wonders whether there is something unsavory about flatly preventing someone from engaging in a vice, or at least from enjoying the experience. But that feeling is perhaps not easily articulated: the closest Cohen comes is when he quotes the medical director of Cantab Pharmaceuticals as musing, "Should we be taking away people's pleasures?" In principle, a vaccine could provide a very long-lasting or even permanent barrier against drug addiction. Those familiar with the debates on germ-line human genetic engineering will see some parallels in vice vaccines, however: parents have always sought to make their children good; why couldn't they also ensure that their children will fail at being bad?

COPYRIGHT 2000 Hastings Center
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2000 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Publication:The Hastings Center Report
Date:Sep 1, 2000
Previous Article:IN MEMORIAM.
Next Article:Philip Franklin Wagley, Hastings Center Board Member.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters