A new vaccine could completely block the effects of fentanyl – potentially saving thousands of Americans from overdoses each year.
Researchers at the University of Houston in Texas have developed an injection that can keep the highly potent drug from entering the brains of mice.
Fentanyl binds to opioid receptors in areas of the brain that control pain and emotions. When you take too much, the brain is starved of oxygen, which kills neurons.
The shot was able to block the drug from entering the brain without affecting other pain relievers such as morphine, meaning that the vaccinated person could still be treated with other drugs if necessary.
The vaccine works by stimulating T-cells in the body’s immune system to produce antibodies in the blood that deal with fentanyl.
These immune proteins trap the drug when it enters the body and prevent it from spreading further and causing damage. It is then processed in the kidney and excreted from the body.
Researchers told DailyMail.com that the vaccine could be used by people suffering from opioid use disorder or college students experimenting with illegal substances.
Fentanyl was developed as a pain reliever for use in hospitals, but its cheap manufacturing cost and high potency have made it a favorite for drug dealers.
Meth, cocaine, and street Xanax are some of the drugs laced with fentanyl. Just 2 milligrams – the equivalent of five grains of salt – is enough to overdose on fentanyl.
America is currently in the throes of a fentanyl epidemic, with nearly 200 Americans dying every day from the synthetic opioid. To put that in context, Covid is currently responsible for about 290 deaths per day, the most recent official data.
Researchers have developed a three-shot vaccine that creates antibodies to fentanyl in a person’s blood. These antibodies can prevent the drug from reaching the brain and completely damaging it. This will stop the overdose
Fentanyl has taken over some American communities and in 2010 It was responsible for 71,000 drug overdose deaths in 2021.
How does the fentanyl vaccine work?
University of Houston researchers have developed a fentanyl vaccine that blocks the drug from reaching the brains of mice.
Three doses of vaccine are given with each vaccine given three weeks after the previous one.
The shot trains T-cells in the body’s immune system to produce antibodies that fight fentanyl.
Dr. Colin Haile, who led the study, speculates that the body may already be producing antibodies to the drug, fentanyl, even if it is not strong enough to protect against it.
When the body detects fentanyl in the blood, these antibodies bind to it and prevent the drug from reaching the brain.
As a result, fentanyl acts as a pain reliever, and prevents the side effects of euphoria and sedation.
Instead, the drug is sent to the kidneys and is processed by the organ and excreted from the body.
Researchers hope to begin human clinical trials for the drug next year.
Houston researchers hope their vaccine could dramatically disrupt the nation’s drug overdose crisis and save thousands of lives.
They plan to begin phase 1 human trials of the vaccine next year.
‘We usually follow people from vaccination when they get vaccinated [viruses]”But here we are following a person from a chemical,” lead researcher and professor at the University of Houston, Dr. Colin Haley, told DailyMail.com.
According to Dr. Haile, the body makes its own antibodies to drugs like fentanyl — though not enough to completely reject them.
It was published in the magazine last month PharmaceuticalsResearchers tested their vaccine on 60 mice, of which 28 were given the vaccine.
The mice were vaccinated with three doses – one every three weeks – before being exposed to fentanyl.
Dr. Hailey explained that the vaccine works by targeting the molecule that serves as the backbone of opioids.
The shot uses a fentanyl conjugate – an altered form of the drug molecule – as a base.
Then the body is trained to produce antibodies that can fight the molecules that make up the drug.
‘When an individual gets the vaccine, they get antibodies to fentanyl,’ he said.
Antibodies bind to the drug and prevent it from reaching the brain. If you prevent fentanyl from getting into the brain, you prevent the euphoric effects and effects that lead to overdose deaths.’
The vaccine uses additional defenses – substances used in some vaccines help to create a stronger immune response.
They target specific parts of the body’s immune system, so immunity is stronger and lasts longer.
They reduce the spread of foreign invaders in the body by reducing the speed of blood circulation.
This vaccine uses dmLT as an adjuvant. The substance increases the amount of medicine released by the body’s immune system.
The graph above shows the CDC’s estimate of the number of drug overdose deaths in the United States each year. The figures show that they have reached a high level now and have been increasing for the past three years
CDC figures show they were behind nearly three in five drug overdose deaths, including the opioid fentanyl (black line). The Black Opioid Line includes deaths from synthetic opioids (brown), natural and semi-synthetic opioids (green), heroin (blue), and methadone (purple).
Drug overdose deaths in the US are mostly concentrated in the Appalachian region.
What is fentanyl and why is it dangerous?
Fentanyl was first developed in Belgium in the 1950s to help cancer patients with their pain relief.
Due to its high potency, it has become popular among recreational drug users.
Overdose deaths linked to synthetic opioids such as fentanyl jumped from nearly 10,000 in 2015 to nearly 20,000 in 2016 — surpassing those from common opioid painkillers and heroin for the first time.
And in the year Drug overdoses killed more than 72,000 people in the U.S. in 2017—a record led by fentanyl.
It is often added to heroin, because it creates the same high as the drug, and its effects are biologically similar. But it can be up to 50 times more powerful than heroin, officials in the US say.
In the US, fentanyl is classified as a Schedule II drug – indicating that it has limited medical use but has the potential for abuse and can cause psychological and physical dependence.
The Houston researchers took blood samples from the vaccinated mice to determine their antibody levels after each vaccination.
They found a significant jump in antibody levels between weeks four and six, followed by steady protection from the fourth week through the tenth and final week of the study.
‘If you prevent fentanyl from getting into the brain, you prevent it from producing the euphoric effects and effects that lead to overdose deaths.’
Fentanyl binds to receptors in the brain, causing feelings of numbness, euphoria, and stupor.
Over time it desensitizes the receptors, and eventually a person can access those feelings only with opioids. This leads to addiction.
If a person takes too much, they can stop breathing, depriving the brain and other parts of the body of oxygen. As a result, a person suffers severe brain damage.
This can often be fatal. Even survivors often have permanent brain damage.
Naxolone, sold under the brand name Narcan, is a very effective tool for doctors and first responders who deal with overdoses.
The fast-acting nasal spray quickly clears the opioid receptors in a person’s brain and neutralizes the drug’s effects.
Although it can be used immediately after an overdose. This vaccine also prevents overdose.
The scientists used tests to measure how well the mice responded to pain, whether fentanyl had broken down in their blood.
Opioids like fentanyl work by creating a sensation called analgesia.
Each rat in both study groups was given a dose of 0.05 mg of fentanyl for each kilogram of body weight (mg/kg or a small dose of 0.1mg/kg).
If the vaccine is effective, the pain-inducing effect of fentanyl is not found in the vaccinated mice.
Researchers conducted two experiments – one involving applying heat to the rats’ tails to see if they would respond. The method is known as the tail-examination test, and it indicates that if the animal removes its tail from the heat, it may feel pain.
In a second experiment, the mice were placed on a heating plate while being warmed up. They judged that a mouse was in pain if it lifted its legs off the plate.
In both experiments, unvaccinated mice did not respond to the pain, indicating that fentanyl has a numbing effect on receptors in their brains.
Vaccinated mice responded to the pain stimulus as expected, but the pain stimulus was abolished.
A test of the brain samples also revealed no trace of the drug.
Apparently they never found the fentanyl. The complete ban,’ said Dr. Hailey.
When further tests were performed using other pain relievers such as morphine and oxycodone, the vaccinated mice showed signs of panic.
‘Anti-fentanyl antibodies were specific to fentanyl and fentanyl derivatives and did not react with other opioids such as morphine,’ explained Dr Hailey.
That means a vaccinated person can still be treated with other opioids for pain relief.
Dr. Haile’s team has high hopes for the vaccine if it proves to be effective.
He said it could create an opportunity for people addicted to illegal drugs to accidentally use fentanyl.
Dr. Haile used it as an example to prevent parents from ‘experimenting’ by forcing their children to get vaccinated before they go to college.
Some notable fentanyl overdose cases include rapper Mac Miller, who died of an overdose in 2018, and pop singer Prince, who died in 2016.
The illegal version of the drug is mostly obtained from Mexico via China, and experts have pointed out that the crisis at the southern border is the main route for it to be smuggled into the United States.