A friend once told me that it was 100 times harder for him to quit smoking cigarettes than to quit drinking alcohol. Clearly nicotine is highly addictive. About 45 million people in the U.S. smoke cigarettes, even though cigarette smoking leads to 1 of every 5 deaths each year.
In a National Health Interview Survey, over half of the smokers reported trying to quit in the past year without success. In the future, these smokers may get a vaccine to help protect them from nicotine addiction.
Researchers from Weill Cornell Medical College and Scripps Research Institute have developed a new vaccine that may treat nicotine addiction by blocking the pleasurable sensations that nicotine creates in the brain. At the early stage of animal testing, Dr. Ronald Crystal and his colleagues have demonstrated that they can prevent nicotine from reaching the brain in mice using a single injection of vaccine, as described in the latest issue of Science Translational Medicine.
Common active vaccines, like flu shots, work by introducing a small amount of virus so your immune system responds against the intruder. However, Crystal’s team created a different type – a genetic vaccine.
Their vaccine genetically modifies the liver to continuously produce high levels of an anti-nicotine antibody, in addition to normal liver production. These antibodies bind to nicotine in the blood, preventing it from reaching the brain. The trick is that you need anti-nicotine antibodies to be continuously present in the blood at sufficient levels.