With New Nicotine Vaccine, Cigarettes Give You No Pleasure

By denaturing nicotine before it reaches the heart and brain, a new vaccine could mute the addictiveness of tobacco products

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Challiyil Eswaramangalath Vipin via Wikimedia

Nicotine addiction is a hard habit to break. But what if you could never get hooked in the first place? Researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York report in the journal Science Translational Medicine that they have developed a potential vaccine for nicotine addiction. In mice, the vaccine inhibits the effects of nicotine before they reach the heart or brain, making it seem as though the nicotine never entered the bloodstream.

The vaccine works by using the liver to churn out a steady flow of antibodies that destroy nicotine as it enters the bloodstream, before it can make the circulatory loop to the brain and the heart. Previous therapies have proven effective at doing this, but they have to be administered on a regular basis. In mice, one dose of the vaccine activated the antibody-producing function in the liver for life.

That raises the possibility of a single vaccination, introduced to a person once in his or her lifetime, that would free that person from nicotine's addictive qualities for life. That person could still choose to enjoy a cigarette for the sheer pleasure of sucking sweet, sweet tarred tobacco smoke into his or her lungs, but the capacity for addiction would be muted. It could also be used to treat smokers who have exhausted other quitting aids.