Written by Alex Crees
Researchers have developed a vaccine that successfully treated nicotine addiction in mice, according to a study published Wednesday in Science Translational Medicine.
With just a single dose, the vaccine protected mice against nicotine addiction for the rest of their lives, the researchers said. The vaccine works by prompting the animal’s liver to act as a ‘factory’ that continually produces antibodies. The antibodies then absorb the nicotine as soon as it hits the bloodstream, preventing it from reaching the brain or the heart.
According to the study’s lead investigator, Dr. Ronald Crystal, chairman and professor of Genetic Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College, it normally takes nicotine about six to 10 seconds to cross the bloodstream, reach the brain and bind to receptors. This is what produces the calm or relaxed feelings that drive nicotine addiction. By blocking nicotine from reaching the brain, the antibodies prevent those pleasurable feelings from occurring.
"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 said in a released statement.
Importantly, the vaccine allows the body to build up its own immunity against nicotine, making it more effective and consistent than vaccines developed in the past.
Crystal said previous nicotine vaccines likely failed because they directly injected nicotine antibodies into the body, rather than prompting the body to build its own antibodies. This meant these ‘passive’ vaccines had to be injected multiple times, because they only lasted for three to four weeks, and the dosage level required may have varied from person to person—particularly if the person started smoking again.
On the other hand, the researchers knew the second main type of vaccines, known as ‘active’ vaccines, wouldn’t protect against nicotine addiction either.