In mice, at least, gene therapy-enhanced vaccine blocks nicotine addiction

Scientists are using gene therapy to enhance an experimental vaccine intended to combat smokers' addiction to nicotine. Researchers at Weil Cornell Medical College and others have successfully tested the therapy in mice, Bloomberg and New Scientist report. Vaccines against addiction are a long-held goal that have not succeeded in a large scale. At best, they've had mixed results.  And as both stories point out, vaccines targeted specifically to nicotine haven't worked.

Subsequent testing is planned in rats and also non-human primates, Bloomberg points out. So don't get your hopes up for a quick solution, as it will be years before humans get to test this approach. But the gene therapy treatment is relatively novel and worth watching.

As the accounts both explain, the goal here was to keep nicotine from reaching the brain. To do this, they first isolated the gene in a mouse that had the strongest antibody against nicotine. Next, they placed it into an adeno-associated virus, which as New Scientist notes, is typically used for gene therapy work. A single dose of the vaccine injected was effective, enabling it to produce multiple anti-nicotine antibodies. After that, the mice endured the injection of two cigarettes' worth of nicotine. According to the researchers, the antibodies stopped more than 80% of the nicotine from reaching the brain.

For details, read more in the journal of Science Translational Medicine.

- read the Bloomberg story
- check out the New Scientist story
- read the journal abstract