If the treatment a research team in New York is working applies to humans as successfully as mice, then kissing the smoking habit goodbye will be as easy as getting a vaccine. In fact, that's what it is - a vaccine, given once, lasts a lifetime.
"While we have only tested mice to date," Dr. Ronald G. Crystal writes. "We are very hopeful that this kind of vaccine strategy can finally help the millions of smokers who have tried to stop, exhausting all the methods on the market today, but find their nicotine addiction to be strong enough to overcome these current approaches,."
Vaccine to stop smoking
Dr. Crystal leads the team at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York and their findings to date have been published in the journal 'Science Translational Medicine.' They say the vaccine they developed eats up nicotine in the liver, preventing it from getting to, and damaging, the heart, and preventing it from getting to the brain. If the nicotine does not reach the brain there is no addiction.
To date the vaccine has only been tried on mice. In a controlled experiment they found that mice who'd been given nicotine and then the vaccine had lower blood pressure and lower heart activity than mice who'd only been given nicotine. Dr. Crystal, who said one dose of the vaccine worked for the rest of a mouse's lifetime, says this is an indication that the vaccine had prevented the nicotine from reaching their brains.
"Pacman-like" nicotine killers
The research team will try the vaccine on rats, then primates and then humans. They believe if successful it can be used on non-smokers, too, and that, like other vaccines, it will act as a preventive measure, ensuring the person does not ever become addicted to nicotine.
"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," Dr. Crystal said.