Health & Wellbeing

New nicotine vaccine may succeed at treating smoking addiction, where others have failed

New nicotine vaccine may succe...
A vaccine currently in development may be more effective at keeping nicotine molecules from acting on the brain (Photo: Shutterstock)
A vaccine currently in development may be more effective at keeping nicotine molecules from acting on the brain (Photo: Shutterstock)
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A vaccine currently in development may be more effective at keeping nicotine molecules from acting on the brain (Photo: Shutterstock)
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A vaccine currently in development may be more effective at keeping nicotine molecules from acting on the brain (Photo: Shutterstock)

If you're a smoker who's trying to quit, you may recall hearing about vaccines designed to cause the body's immune system to treat nicotine like a foreign invader, producing antibodies that trap and remove it before it's able to reach receptors in the brain. It's a fascinating idea, but according to scientists at California's Scripps Research Institute, a recent high-profile attempt had a major flaw. They claim to have overcome that problem, and are now developing a vaccine of their own that they believe should be more effective.

There are actually two forms of nicotine, and they're like molecular mirror images of one another. These are known as the left-handed and right-handed versions. Although about 99 percent of the nicotine found in tobacco is the left-handed version, a previous vaccine created by a biopharmaceutical company caused the body to create antibodies against both types.

According to lead scientist Prof. Kim Janda, this was a partial waste of the immune response, causing the vaccine to not be as effective as it could have been. As a result, it only worked on 30 percent of test subjects in clinical trials.

Instead, his team has created a vaccine which causes the body to only produce antibodies that target left-handed nicotine molecules – none of the immune response goes towards making antibodies that won't be needed. In lab tests on rats, the vaccine was found to be 60 percent more effective at producing left-handed-nicotine-targeting antibodies than an alternate version, which was made from a 50-50 mix of both left- and right-handed nicotine derivatives known as haptens.

The scientists are now trying to establish how consistently such a vaccine would work across large populations of users, given the variations in individuals' immune systems. They also note that even if it does work to remove the physiological reward system for smoking, users would still have to deal with smoking-withdrawal symptoms.

A paper on the research was recently published in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry. Another nicotine vaccine, utilizing some of Janda's materials, is currently being developed at Weill Cornell Medical College.

Sources: Scripps Research Institute, American Chemical Society

3 comments
Purple-Stater
As ridiculous as this sounds... I want this, so that I can smoke more! Seriously. I love a good cigar, but I'm especially sensitive to the effects of nicotine. It simply kicks my arse and makes me sick with very little effort (my body does not like addictive things in general).
pmshah
I have been a smoker fir over 50 years and I thought the whole thing worked differently. This is how it was explained to me my doctors. Nicotine is a poison. As soon as it is detected in the blood stream the immune system kicks in and increases the heart rate and BP to pump maximum amount of blood through your lever to purge it. It is this high pulse rate that gives one a kick.
Andrew Keim
Apparently Salvinorin D also acts to clear receptor sites of addiction, this is a new field of research but they have had success even with heroin and meth. So I'm sure cigarette addiction can be removed with this method.