Nebraska Researchers Eye Vaccine as Meth Addiction Treatment

Advances in vaccine development offer the potential to help methamphetamine addicts kick the devastating habit, University of Nebraska researchers say.

The possibility stems from efforts to make a nicotine vaccine.

Though results are months away, Sam Sanderson, an associate professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, is optimistic.

"It's the classic 'There's a lot of work to be done,"' Sanderson said Tuesday. "The out-of-the-gate data is very encouraging."

For about five years, Sanderson and Rick Bevins, a psychology professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, have been studying ways to use the body's immune system to keep nicotine from reaching the brain. Their method, using laboratory-created peptides, has been successful in animal tests.

The goal would be to give someone a vaccine boost while they are withdrawing from cigarettes or other tobacco products.

Sanderson believes meth affects the brain in a similar fashion.

"Our thinking is if we can pull things off with our nicotine vaccine, we're hoping we can do that with meth," he said.

Meth abuse has been growing in many parts of the country. Treatment of the addiction is difficult and costly, Sanderson said.

Next week, Sanderson and his team at the medical center in Omaha will begin developing peptides that trigger antibodies that target meth. Those formulations will then be taken to Lincoln, where Bevins will lead tests of their effectiveness in rats.

Bevins, the psychologist, said medicine and behavior modification are now being used to treat meth addicts.

A vaccine could become an important new tool, he said.

"Adding this to that whole arsenal really might give the edge that is needed," Bevins said. "If you make an error and slip, maybe you won't slip as far."

Sanderson wants to use patches rather than shots to deliver the vaccines, which he predicted would increase their use.

"Nobody likes to get stuck by a needle," he said. "It's no fun."