UM Researchers Combat Nation's Opioid Addiction

As the nation's opioid addiction crisis grips families and communities across the country, UM’s Center for Translational Medicine has been awarded a $3.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop an innovative vaccine targeting opioid addiction.

Jay Evans, director of UM's Center for Translational MedicineLast fall, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and National Institute on Drug Abuse organized a meeting to bring drug abuse and vaccine research teams together to find solutions to the growing opioid-use epidemic. As a result, UM partnered with the University of Minnesota and Hennepin Healthcare Research Institute. The partnership has now generated new research funds and a promising new vaccine candidate.

The principal investigator on the two-year award is Dr. Jay Evans, director of UM’s Center for Translational Medicine and a research professor in the Division of Biological Sciences. Other investigators on the award are Drs. David Burkhart, Kendal Ryter and Helene Bazin-Lee from UM; Marco Pravetoni from the University of Minnesota; and Paul Pentel and Mark LeSage from Hennepin Healthcare Research Institute.

UM scientists in the Center for Translational Medicine have worked on vaccines, adjuvants  ̶  compounds that stimulate an immune response  ̶  and delivery systems for over 20 years.

“We are applying what we have learned about traditional infectious disease vaccines to combat the growing epidemic of opioid-use disorders,” Evans said.

Scott Whittenburg, UM vice president for research and creative scholarship, emphasized the center’s vital role in biomedical research.

“Research like this demonstrates the University’s commitment to improving the health and well-being of the residents of our state,” Whittenburg said.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that more than 130 Americans die of opioid overdose each day. In Montana, drug overdose deaths are the third leading cause of injury-related death.