Cigarette smoking is one of the major addictions prevalent in modern society and a vaccine may be on the way to cure it. Unlike other addiction treatment options which attempt a gradual replacement of nicotine with a similar chemical, this treatment removes the pleasure that cigarette smoking provides, by preventing nicotine from reaching the brain.
Why Smoking is Addictive
The nicotine in cigarettes crosses the blood-brain barrier and facilitates the production of the hormone dopamine. Dopamine is the ‘happy hormone’ of the body, also released when we’re in love. With regular smoking, the body gets used to a certain level of dopamine being present, and experiences withdrawal when the frequency of smoking drops.
Inserting Nicotine Binders in the Body
Anti-nicotine vaccines have been on the market for a few years now. These contain antibodies which bind to nicotine in the blood and prevent it from reaching the brain. Smokers who have been administered this vaccine would not experience the pleasure associated with smoking, and could wean themselves off the habit more easily. However, the vaccines used so far have to be administered so frequently that the costs are prohibitive.
Researchers at Cornell have now discovered a new method of planting these anti-nicotine antibodies in a patient’s blood. They have used a non-infectious virus which contains the gene for this antibody. Once the virus enters the body, it enters liver cells. The genetic sequence of the virus inserts itself into the liver’s genetic sequence, and the liver turns into a factory that manufactures the anti-nicotine antibody. This means that body is engineered to produce its own antibodies. While infectious viruses use this very mechanism to invade the host body, this is now being used to produce the chemicals that we want inside the host cells.
‘Immunity’ For a Lifetime
This vaccine has been tested on mice, and it has been found that a single dose of the vaccine is enough to prevent nicotine entering the brain for an entire lifetime. Safety trials on humans are now needed before it can enter the market. Besides curing addiction, this vaccine has great potential in preventing addiction to cigarette smoking by being administered to non-smokers.
This research has been published in the journal Science Translational Medicine and can be accessed here.