An NIH-funded group of investigators has designed a new nicotine vaccine designed to eliminate the pleasing physical response people get when they light up. And while it's only been tested successfully in mice so far, the work has stirred interest in a new approach that could work for other addictions as well.
Earlier efforts to create a nicotine vaccine have largely failed, with the immune response that investigators have managed to provoke too feeble to eliminate the desire for a smoke. In this case, though, scientists used a benign virus to insert the gene sequence for an antibody into liver cells. The cells then started to produce antibodies to nicotine, which massed for an attack. Among the mice which were treated, the concentration of nicotine in the brain only amounted to 15% of the levels seen in mice which weren't treated.
"The antibody is floating around like Pac-Man in the blood," Ronald Crystal, the chairman of genetic medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College, tells Bloomberg. "If you give the nicotine and the anti-nicotine gobbles it up, it doesn't reach the brain."
Of course, Crystal also noted that a success in a mouse study is a far cry from human proof-of-concept data. In his words, mice aren't small humans. But the success in animal studies paves the way to some human studies that may just open up a whole new front in the medical war against addiction.