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Novel vaccine could help smokers quit: How does it work?

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
A unique vaccine developed by researchers to help smokers stop for good.

Researchers might have found a way to help smokers quit with a novel vaccine. In mouse studies, a unique vaccine was found to produce antibodies against nicotine's effects.

Vaccine for smoking blocks tobacco pleasure

Researchers who developed the vaccine found that a single dose stops addiction to nicotine by blocking the chemical before it reaches the brain or heart.

According to the study's lead investigator, Dr. Ronald G. Crystal, chairman and professor of Genetic Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College, "As far as we can see, the best way to treat chronic nicotine addiction from smoking is to have these Pacman-like antibodies on patrol, clearing the blood as needed before nicotine can have any biological effect.”

Crystal explains the vaccine is different from others because it doesn’t require repeated injections, unlike others that have been tested that only last a few weeks and don’t always work.

He adds, "Studies show that between 70 and 80 percent of smokers who try to quit light up again within six months.”

Stop smoking aids currently on the market don’t help people with strong addiction to nicotine.

Novel approach: How it works

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Active vaccines contain viruses to produce antibodies to protect from disease, but according to the researchers, nicotine can’t be recognized by the body as a foreign substance because it’s a small molecule. Other vaccines deliver antibodies directly to produce ‘passive’ immunity.

For the nicotine vaccine the researchers took an entirely new approach by combining a nicotine antibody with an adeno-associated virus (AAV) that’s engineered so it’s harmless.

The antibody for the vaccine was engineered by co-author Dr. Jim D. Janda, of The Scripps Research Institute who used the genetic sequence of a nicotine antibody.

Mice that received the vaccine had high levels of the antibody in the bloodstream continuously. The mice were also monitored for activity after getting the vaccine and there was no change in their behavior.

The next step is to see how well the stop smoking vaccine works in rats and primates before the research could advance to human studies.

Crystal said in a press release that the approach would work best in smokers who are committed to kicking the habit.

"They will know if they start smoking again, they will receive no pleasure from it…” The new vaccine might offer help for smokers who want to quit and have exhausted currently available methods on the market. Crystal points out that chemicals in nicotine cause health problems, but it’s the nicotine itself that is addictive.

Sci Transl Med 27 June 2012:
Vol. 4, Issue 140, p. 140ra87
Sci. Transl. Med. DOI1126/scitranslmed.3003611: 10.

Image credit: Morguefile