"This response could dull cocaine's psychotropic effects and potentially help users quit," said Kim D. Janda, professor at The Scripps Research Institute in the US. For the study, the researchers took a safe bacterial protein called flagellin that has already been incorporated in other vaccines and modified it to boost the immune response to cocaine.

They tested the compound in mice and found that it worked better than a vaccine candidate they had developed in their decades-long search for vaccines against drugs of abuse. A number of therapies are available to help drug abusers quit but addiction is extremely tough to beat.

So some scientists are working on vaccines to neutralize the high-inducing effects of recreational drugs. Though vaccines are normally associated with fighting bacterial or viral infections, they can also be designed to recruit the body's immune system to recognize non-microbial substances such as drugs.

The new strategy opens up a new avenue for designing vaccines against drugs of abuse, the authors concluded. The paper appeared in the ACS journal Molecular Pharmaceutics.

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