A new type of vaccine is being developed and tested at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, one that could not only eliminate an existing addiction to nicotine, but could possibly even be used as an early preventative measure for those who have not yet taken up smoking.
Vaccines come in two forms, passive and active, and are used to prevent and treat a wide variety of ailments. Passive vaccines work by giving the immune system the antibodies it needs to fight off the specific intruder. Active vaccines actually introduce a small segment of the virus or substance to the immune system so it can build its own defenses against it, which typically last a lifetime.
While passive vaccines can be used to prevent nicotine addiction, they require constant (and costly) doses to maintain the proper level of defense, and there's also a wide variation in the amount of antibodies each smoker needs to curb their addiction.
So the researchers have developed a new form of vaccine called a genetic vaccine. Using the genetic sequence of a nicotine antibody and injecting it into a harmless adeno-associated virus, the researchers are able to send the virus and antibodies to the liver cells, where the genetic sequence then inserts itself into the liver cells, instructing them to begin churning out the antibodies at a steady rate.
In tests on mice given the genetic vaccine, their blood showed a continuous stream of the antibodies being produced throughout their lifetimes, and tests confirmed that those antibodies were having the intended effect of preventing administered nicotine from reaching the hearts and brains of the mice. Those fed the vaccine maintained the same activity levels after receiving nicotine, while those mice who were given nicotine without having been given the vaccine had their blood pressure and heart rate lowered, a sign that the nicotine was reaching the brain and heart.
"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," said the study's lead investigator, Dr. Ronald G. Crystal in the report published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
The next step for the researchers will be to test the vaccine on rats, before moving up to primates if all goes well, and eventually human testing. The promising vaccine could be the ultimate defense against nicotine addiction, which 70-80% of smokers trying to quit the habit cannot overcome, starting up again within six months of quitting.
Should people take a nicotine vaccine, even with all the potential side effects of vaccines, and knowing that once taken, it could not be undone? Or do people need to exert more willpower and kick the habit on their own? Share your thoughts on the smoky subject below.