Nicotine Vaccine Could Help Smokers Kick the Habit
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A new nicotine vaccine being developed out of Virginia Tech could inoculate tobacco users against the pleasure associated with smoking, thereby greatly increasing the odds of an addicted person successfully quitting tobacco.
Mike Zhang, a professor of biological systems engineering in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, said the vaccine works by using biodegradable nanoparticles to block nicotine molecules from entering the brain. If the brain is deprived of nicotine, there will be no “high” after using tobacco.
“Nicotine is one of the most dependency inducing drugs out there,” said Zhang. “It’s just as addictive as much harder drugs such as heroin or cocaine. When someone smokes, the brain makes more dopamine in response to receiving the nicotine. Over time your body needs more nicotine just to feel normal and that’s when addiction occurs. By using this vaccine to block the pleasure response, a person addicted to nicotine will be much more likely to quit smoking or consuming tobacco products.”
Approximately 443,000 Americans die from smoking-related deaths every year and nearly 8.6 million more have a serious smoking-related illness. While Zhang’s vaccine is still a ways off from being ready, he hopes that eventually he can help people realize their dream of quitting smoking.
“I had an aunt who was a heavy smoker and died of lung cancer,” said Zhang. “It was hard to see her struggle with addiction. Our vaccine will hopefully boost the rates of those who are able to quit smoking once they decide they are ready."