News / Health

New Vaccine Could Fight Nicotine Addiction

Cigarette butts are seen in an ashtray in Los Angeles, California, May 31, 2012.
Cigarette butts are seen in an ashtray in Los Angeles, California, May 31, 2012.
Jessica Berman
Cigarette smokers who are having trouble quitting because of nicotine's addictive power may some day be able to receive a novel antibody-producing vaccine to help them kick the habit.  

The average cigarette contains about 4000 different chemicals that - when burned and inhaled - cause the serious health problems associated with smoking. But it is the nicotine in cigarettes that, like other addictive substances, stimulates rewards centers in the brain and hooks smokers to the pleasurable but dangerous routine.

Ronald Crystal, who chairs the department of genetic medicine at Weill-Cornell Medical College in New York, where researchers are developing a nicotine vaccine, said the idea is to stimulate the smoker's immune system to produce antibodies or immune proteins to destroy the nicotine molecule before it reaches the brain. But Crystal said nicotine antibodies are too small and don't last long enough in the bloodstream for the immune system to mount a sustained attack. So scientists took the DNA - the genetic building blocks - of the nicotine antibodies and used it to genetically modify the liver to continuously produce them.  
                                                               
The result, said Crystal, is a steady stream of antibodies circulating through the smoker's bloodstream, constantly on the lookout for nicotine molecules. Crystal likened the antibodies' behavior to the early video arcade game, Pacman, which involved an animated creature racing through a maze eating dots. In this case, each 'dot' is a nicotine molecule.

"These little Pacman antibodies then gobble it up and prevent it from reaching its receptors in the brain," he said. "And that's what gives the pleasure from smoking.  So essentially [we are] blocking the nicotine from reaching the brain.  And so you get no effect from the nicotine."

Researchers created the vaccine by taking the genetically-engineered nicotine antibody, inserting it into a harmless virus and directing the virus to infect the liver cells of laboratory mice. With the virus in their nuclei, the liver cells started producing nicotine antibodies, essentially bypassing the immune system and creating a new army of proteins to seek out and destroy any nicotine they might encounter.

"Once we genetically modify their livers to make an antibody against nicotine - so now the antibodies against nicotine are floating around in the blood - and we administer nicotine to the mouse, nothing happens. It's like they are getting water," Crystal added.

Using infrared beams to measure the activity level of the experimental mice, Crystal says nicotine-addicted mice that received the vaccine were just as alert as normal mice. The rodents were also more active than mice that received nicotine but not the vaccine. A single dose of the vaccine was effective for the life of the mice.

Ronald Crystal and colleagues report on their nicotine vaccine in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

You May Like

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Researcher: Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor at Symposium on Obesity, Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome says problem involves more than calorie intake, warns of worldwide health impact More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thoughti
X
George Putic
May 26, 2015 9:26 PM
Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.

VOA Blogs