Health & Wellbeing

New vaccine could provide lifetime immunity to nicotine addiction

New vaccine could provide life...
A single dose of a new nicotine vaccine could provide lifetime protection from the pleasurable effects of nicotine, helping existing smokers quit for good and preventing those that haven't yet smoked from becoming addicted (Photo: Shutterstock)
A single dose of a new nicotine vaccine could provide lifetime protection from the pleasurable effects of nicotine, helping existing smokers quit for good and preventing those that haven't yet smoked from becoming addicted (Photo: Shutterstock)
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A single dose of a new nicotine vaccine could provide lifetime protection from the pleasurable effects of nicotine, helping existing smokers quit for good and preventing those that haven't yet smoked from becoming addicted (Photo: Shutterstock)
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A single dose of a new nicotine vaccine could provide lifetime protection from the pleasurable effects of nicotine, helping existing smokers quit for good and preventing those that haven't yet smoked from becoming addicted (Photo: Shutterstock)

Researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College have developed a vaccine that could help existing smokers quit for good and prevent those yet to try cigarettes from ever becoming addicted. The vaccine turns the recipient’s kidney into a factory continuously churning out antibodies that clear the bloodstream of nicotine before it has a chance to reach the brain and deliver it’s addictive rush. Unlike previously tested nicotine vaccines that only last a few weeks, the effects of a single dose of this new vaccine should last a lifetime.

Generally, there are two types of vaccines. The first are active ones that activate a lifetime immune response by presenting a bit of the foreign substance, such as a piece of virus, to the immune system. Nicotine isn't suitable for active vaccines as the molecule is too small to be recognized by the immune system. The second type is a passive vaccine, which delivers ready-made antibodies to an individual. While passive nicotine vaccines have been tested, they have failed in clinical trials because they only last a few weeks and require repeated, expensive injections.

Building on previous work on a new, third kind of vaccine initially tested in mice to treat certain eye diseases and tumor types, known as a genetic vaccine, the research team at Weill Cornell took the genetic sequence of an engineered nicotine antibody and put it into an adeno-associated virus (AAV), which is a virus engineered not to be harmful. They also included information that directed the vaccine to go to hepatocytes, which are liver cells. The antibody's genetic sequence then inserts itself into the nucleus of hepatocytes, and these cells start to churn out a steady stream of the antibodies, which neutralize the nicotine as soon as it enters the bloodstream.

The vaccine has only been tested in mice, but these mice studies showed that the vaccine produced high levels of the antibody continuously, which the researchers measured in the blood of the mice test subjects. They also discovered that little of the nicotine they administered to the experimental mice reached the brain. The activity of the mice treated with both the vaccine and nicotine remained unaltered, while the mice that weren’t treated with the vaccine basically “chilled out” after receiving nicotine. They relaxed and their blood pressure and heart activity were lowered, indicating that the nicotine had reached the brain and cardiovascular system.

Dr. Ronald G. Crystal, chairman and professor of Genetic Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College says that, if found to have the same effects and be safe for human use, the vaccine would be best used in smokers that are committed to quitting. "They will know if they start smoking again, they will receive no pleasure from it due to the nicotine vaccine, and that can help them kick the habit," he says.

However, he adds that it might also be possible to use the vaccine to preempt nicotine addiction in those that have never smoked. In the same way that vaccines are now used to prevent a number of disease-producing infections.

"Just as parents decide to give their children an HPV vaccine, they might decide to use a nicotine vaccine. But that is only theoretically an option at this point," Dr. Crystal says. "We would of course have to weight benefit versus risk, and it would take years of studies to establish such a threshold."

The researchers will next test the vaccine in rats and then primates, before ultimately testing it in humans.

The team’s work is described in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Source: Weill Cornell Medical College

20 comments
robinyatesuk2003
as a lifetime smoker now suffering from COPD and a limited life because of this.I hope this product is available before I croak
Grunchy
Holy Cow! Imagine the same thing but for alcohol and drugs. Then imagine the offender whose sentence is "you will be administered the vaccine that makes you impervious to all addictive substances, for life". You might as well go be a preacher after that.
Miyazaki Wataru
Sorry Robin Yates. But seeing as this is a vaccine that prevents the brain from acquiring an addiction in the first place, it probably wouldn`t be able to help someone already suffering. Hope they do find something for addicts and addict related illnesses such as COPD
pmshah
! Miyazaki Wataru - you are mistaken Read the very first sentence - "a vaccine that could help existing smoker’s quit for good ". I too am interested on the same grounds. Have been a smoker for 50 years - fortunately still with fairly clear lungs. Notwithstanding how the research goes, how is the US and British tobacco lobby going to take it ? Not very kindly I think!
GvillaThrilla
So, it blocks the good feeling you get from the cigs, but doesn't stop the cravings? That seems like a lose-lose situation (or I read the article wrong). Sounds to me like it would stop kids from starting smoking as they don't get that initial good feeling, but doesn't sound like it would help those that currently smoke.
evearc
Heh, did people read the article wrong ? If the nicotine cannot reach the brain and cannot create "that addictive rush" then even if your are already addicted it would make it much easier to stop smoking. The only concern is the antibodies last a lifetime and you could never gain the benefits of using nicotine again...I am sure there are some. Smoking is a very bad habit that hurts a lot more than the lungs, it damages the stomach and the heart and other vital organs.
Snake Oil Baron
The vaccine causes the immune system to attack and mop up nicotine but without the ability to get nicotine to the brain the cravings diminish after initial withdrawal and while they can reoccur they do so less and less over time. Any time someone gives in to a craving the drug can't get in to the brain to work so the addiction is not reinforced. There is a benefit to using force of will to stop an addiction since rehab (even consensually adopted) weekends the part of the brain that is needed to inhibit the behavior where as self-denial--even if it fails several times--strengthens that brain region. But in some cases that option isn't viable so if this works as a long-term solution it will be very beneficial. Ideally one would combine cold turkey/willpower with the vaccine by saying that one needs to go without smoking for a couple of weeks and then give them the vaccine to protect against reenforcement given a relapses. And yes, they are working on similar vaccines for other addictive drugs. It is amazing what you can do when you treat medical conditions using medical research instead of prohibition.
drumalis
It seems to me that if it stops the nicotine from reaching the brain that a nicotine addict that took this would suffer from withdrawal whether they smoke or not. It would certainly be easier to not give in to the cravings if smoking no longer satisfies those cravings. Short term pain = long term gain.
Travis Lundy
Unfortunately I foresee the very powerful tobacco lobby making the commercialization of this vaccine very difficult. It's these potentially helpful substances that become the ire of those who can benefit financially from the status quo. I personally would like to see less smoking and am glad many places do not allow it but I know for those that made the unfortunate decision to start this ugly habit that it is VERY difficult or even impossible for some to quit.
Slowburn
If the nicotine is not reaching the receptors in the brain it does not matter how many cigarets you smoke they are not going to stop the withdrawal symptoms and in a few weeks they go away, getting over the habit of sticking a paper tube of smoldering weeds into you mouth will take longer. However there is no way I'll subject myself or anyone I love to genetic modification to make them immune to nicotine addiction.