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Nicotine Vaccine to Help Smokers Quit Smoking

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Biologist Peter Burkhard on Nicotine Vaccine

A nicotine vaccine to help smokers break their addiction to nicotine and a lifelong smoking habit may be available in the near future. University of Connecticut researcher Dr. Peter Burkhard is working on a new type of viral carrier covered with nicotine particles that is expected to stimulate an immune response that will block nicotine molecules from cigarette smoke going to the brain.

“If you look at the consequences of cigarettes, it’s mind-boggling,” says Dr. Burkhard. “Seven million people are killed by the causes of nicotine addiction every year. That’s like wiping out Switzerland, every year.”

Dr. Burkhard is a recipient of a $2.5 million Avant-Garde Medications Development Award from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The award is based on his plans to develop and test a new nicotine vaccine for treating nicotine addiction in smokers. From previous work on developing vaccines to fight diseases such as malaria, Dr. Burkhard proposes that the same basic methods of introducing something foreign to your immune system can invoke a response that will create antibodies that will block and remove the foreign substance from your body. Nicotine, he believes, is one such type of foreign substance that could be blocked by our immune response.

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As Dr. Burkhard explains it, when you smoke, nicotine travels from your lungs to your blood, and finally to your brain, where it acts as a stimulant and produces a good feeling, or a “kick.” This kick is what makes nicotine so addictive. However, if the immune system can be trained to recognize and bind nicotine molecules in the blood, before they reach the brain, then the addiction loop would be short-circuited, and people could more easily quit smoking, he states in a recent UConn Today news release.

Where previous nicotine vaccine attempts have failed by other researchers, Dr. Burkhard believes he has found the solution by creating a special self-assembling viral carrier molecule made up of proteins that is optimized for immune system recognition. “It’s no different than any other protein your body uses on a daily basis,” he states. “You could eat it if you wanted to, and it wouldn’t harm you.” The viral carrier molecule is a star-shaped nanoparticle that will carry nicotine molecules on its edges to present to the immune system.

A plus to future patients is that his creation lacks chemical enhancers, which could result in a less expensive nicotine vaccine with fewer side effects. This nicotine vaccine will be administered through a nasal spray which will be more convenient and less painful than an injection. Dr. Burkhard will use his award money to test his nicotine-carrying viral molecule in clinical trials to determine how the immune system will respond and to optimize the dosage for clinical use.

Source: UConn Today