Scripps Research team makes progress on vaccine against heroin

Lynne Friedmann is a science writer based in Solana Beach.

by Lynne Friedmann

Researchers at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have developed a vaccine against a heroin high that has been shown effective in animal models.

Attempts over the past four decades to create a vaccine have fallen short because heroin is an elusive target that metabolizes into multiple substances each producing addictive effects. The TSRI team used an approach that targeted not only heroin itself, but also the chemicals into which it quickly degrades. This novel approach resulted in a vaccine “cocktail” that produced antibodies against a constantly changing drug target.

When injected into rats, a rapid antibody response was shown. In addition, addicted rats were less likely to “self-administer” heroin after several booster shots of the vaccine.

The study appears in the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Medicinal Chemistry. News release at

Loss of large predators disrupts ecosystems

The decline of large predators at the top of the food chain has disrupted ecosystems all over the planet, according to a review of recent findings conducted by an international team of scientists.

Large animals were once ubiquitous across the globe and shaped the structure and dynamics of ecosystems. Their decline, largely caused by humans through hunting and habitat fragmentation, has had far-reaching and often surprising consequences, including changes in vegetation, wildfire frequency, infectious diseases, invasive species, water quality, and nutrient cycles.

The study looked at research on a wide range of terrestrial, freshwater, and marine ecosystems and concluded that “the loss of apex consumers is arguably humankind’s most pervasive influence on the natural world.” Researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UCSD contributed to the study with a focus on the importance of sharks in coral reef ecosystems.

The review appears in the journal Science. News release at

Blood cells produced from human stem cells

Salk Institute for Biological Studies researchers have developed an improved technique for generating large numbers of blood cells from a patient’s own cells.

Stem cell researchers have been racing towards this goal since 2006, when techniques for turning ordinary skin cells into induced pluripotential stem cells (iPSCs) were first reported. In particular, Salk researchers have been trying to find more efficient ways to turn iPSCs into blood-forming “hematopoietic” stem cells (HSCs) which would be medically valuable for their ability to supply both oxygen-carrying red blood cells and also all the white blood cells of the immune system.

In the study, researchers tried different combinations and sequences of growth factors and other chemical compounds in an effort to mimic the changing conditions in the womb that naturally direct ESCs to become HSCs in a developing human.

This cocktail approach induced the iPSCs and ESCs to form colonies of cells that bore the distinctive molecular markers of blood cells. Their best effort yielded blood-specific markers on 84 percent of the cells after three weeks.

The findings appear in the journal Stem Cells. News release at

Editor’s Note: La Jolla Light science correspondent Lynne Friedmann has been on the road this summer. She recently taught at the Santa Fe Science Writing Workshop; was on the program of the 7th World Conference of Science Journalism, in Doha, Qatar, and was a journalism fellow at the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting at the University of Rhode Island.

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Posted by Staff on Jul 27, 2011. Filed under Columns, Health & Science, Research Report. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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