Nicotine vaccine could help smokers quit

Breaking a smoking addiction isn’t an easy feat and nicotine patches and gum often do little to help.

But scientists at Selecta Biosciences in Boston have developed a new solution for those looking to quit the nasty habit: a nicotine vaccine. The long-lasting immunizing agent would essentially eradicate the physiological effects of nicotine, eliminating the jolt the drug gives the brain.

The vaccine being developed would target nicotine as if it were a virus. Selecta’s researchers have used synthetic nanoparticles to trigger an immune response to nicotine, causing the body to create antibodies that bind specifically to the toxin. Once these antibodies have attached to the drug, the nicotine molecule becomes too big to pass through the blood-brain barrier so its effects on the brain cease to exist.

Unlike nicotine patches or gum, which still deliver nicotine to the brain but in a format other than smoking, the vaccine would completely eradicate the drug’s addictive effects. It would also be long-lasting, diminishing the effects of nicotine for years at a time.

Technology Review reports:

The nicotine vaccine does not eliminate the craving for nicotine—instead, it diminishes the effect from smoking the cigarette. As a result, smokers who are given the vaccine will find that they can’t alleviate their nicotine withdrawal symptoms by smoking.

Scientists at Selecta have already successfully tested the vaccine in the lab and are now in the middle of a Phase I clinical trial.

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