Vanderbilt Works To Fight Opioid Addiction

Posted at 11:29 AM, Sep 21, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-21 12:30:20-04

Could the same immune system that fights the flu also fight addition? One Vanderbilt researcher says yes.

"So now what we’re finding is that we can change the way animals make decisions by manipulating peptides in the immune system," said Erin Calipari, Assistant Professor of Pharmacology at Vanderbilt University. "I think one of the breakthroughs in addiction research in the last 10-years was the categorization of drug addiction as disease."

Calipari says it's a disease that leans heavily on dopamine in the brain and how good that rush feels. 

"And so what drugs do is they hijacked that system and they pharmacologically increase dopamine levels so no matter what happens you always think they’re good and so it drives you to do it again and again and again," she said. 

Now, Calipari and her team are looking at ways to use other systems in the body. They're targeting, for example, cells in the immune system -- since we can't simply turn off the brain -- to cut-off the cravings.

"Instead of turning the dopamine system on and off we can target immune peptides that fine tune how the dopamine system is encoding information," she said. 

 Everyone is different, there's no single cure, but this research could one day improve treatment options. 

"With addiction it’s not going to be one pill cures all addiction but how can we use this understanding of how the brain encodes information and how peripheral systems interact with it to guide evidence-based treatment in the clinic."