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New Nicotine Vaccine Pacs a Punch

An exciting new way to defend the body from nicotine addiction uses "Pac-Man-like" antibodies.

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Antibodies could eat up nicotine like so
many blue ghosts. Photo via

By Valerie Tejeda

06/28/12

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Quitting the habit may be as easy (or hard, depending how you feel about needles) as getting vaccinated. Scientists have found a way to prevent nicotine addiction over a lifetime, according to a study published in Science Translational Medicine. Researchers from Weill Cornell Medical College tested their new anti-smoking vaccine on mice and found that levels of the nicotine chemical in the brain were reduced by 85% after the injection: "As far as we can see, the best way to treat chronic nicotine addiction from smoking is to have these Pac-Man-like antibodies on patrol, clearing the blood as needed before nicotine can have any biological effect," says the study's lead author, Dr. Ronald G. Crystal. "Our vaccine allows the body to make its own monoclonal antibodies against nicotine, and in that way, develop a workable immunity.” Previous vaccines have produced antibodies to fight nicotine addiction. But this new approach is a gene-therapy vaccine, which uses a genetically-modified virus to produce more, longer-lasting antibodies. Researchers say it could one day be used preventatively for children and young adults: "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," says Dr. Crystal. More research is anticipated, this time on humans, and he and his team are optimistic: "While we have only tested mice to date, we are very hopeful that this kind of vaccine strategy can finally help the millions of smokers who have tried to stop, exhausting all the methods on the market today, but find their nicotine addiction to be strong enough to overcome these current approaches.”

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