Researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College have successfully used a vaccine to produce a long-lasting anti-cocaine immunity in nonhuman primates.

"The vaccine eats up the cocaine in the blood like a little Pac-man before it can reach the brain," the study's lead investigator, Dr. Ronald G. Crystal, said in a news release. "We believe this strategy is a win-win for those individuals, among the estimated 1.4 million cocaine users in the United States, who are committed to breaking their addiction to the drug. Even if a person who receives the anti-cocaine vaccine falls off the wagon, cocaine will have no effect."

The findings were published online in the scientific journal Neuropsychopharmacology on Friday.

Using the medical imaging technique known as PET, Crystal and his colleagues found the vaccine prevented cocaine from reaching the brain. The vaccine stimulated the immune system to produce specific antibodies that attached themselves to cocaine molecules in the bloodstream. This prevented the drug from passing through the blood-brain barrier.

Though not all of the cocaine was blocked from the brain, enough was affected to prevent a "high."

"This is a direct demonstration in a large animal, using nuclear medicine technology, that we can reduce the amount of cocaine that reaches the brain sufficiently so that it is below the threshold by which you get the high," Crystal explained.

"An anti-cocaine vaccination will require booster shots in humans, but we don't know yet how often these booster shots will be needed," he added. "I believe that for those people who desperately want to break their addiction, a series of vaccinations will help."

The vaccine still needs widespread testing in humans before it becomes generally available, but the latest study brings the researchers one step closer to launching human clinical trials.

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[Antibodies in the bloodstream via Shutterstock]