November 30, 2005
Nicotine Vaccine Trial Shows Promise

Picture parents getting their kids vaccinated the first time they smell cigarette smoke on their breath.

A University of Minnesota study indicates that the nicotine vaccine NicVax, which is now being tested in humans, appears safe, well-tolerated, and a potentially effective method for helping smokers kick the habit.

Dorothy Hatsukami, Ph.D., director of the University of Minnesota Cancer Center's Transdisciplinary Tobacco Use Research Center (TTURC), is the lead author on this study. The 38-week study included 68 active smokers who were randomly assigned to receive one of three different doses of the vaccine or a placebo. The findings are published in the current issue of the journal Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics.

"The vaccine works by producing antibodies that specifically bind to nicotine and thereby prevent much of the nicotine from entering the brain," Hatsukami said. "This process potentially reduces the pleasurable effects from smoking and reduces the addiction to nicotine."

The vaccine may become a new option for helping the approximately 45 million people in the United States who smoke. In 2004, the rate for smoking in Minnesota was about the same as the national average of 20.9 percent.

"More research needs to be done, but at this point, our results show the vaccine is safe and well-tolerated," Hatsukami said. "We found the vaccine has few side effects on the central nervous system because the antibody itself is targeted specifically for nicotine and does not alter any functions of the brain."

Additionally, she says that while this study was not designed to test the treatment effect, 38 percent of the participants in the high-dose vaccine group quit smoking for at least 30 days.

"This result was an impressive and completely unexpected finding because the study was not focused on helping smokers quit smoking," she noted. "In fact, to participate in the study, smokers had to attest that they did not have a planned quit date for the next six months."

This is really an ideal addiction treatment because it can just as easily prevent addiction as cure it. However, some drugs might not make good immune system targets. In that case what we need are nanobots that are smart enough to recognize and destroy specific drug targets. Nanobots are a more distant prospect than vaccines though. Another possibility would be to develop gene therapies for the liver that would up a liver's ability to break down a drug compound. Make the drug have a very short half-life in the body. Though people could still get high by use of nasal delivery or other delivery mechanisms that take the drugs to the brain without passing through the liver first.

We also need gene and/or cell therapies that will reverse the effects of addictive drugs on the brain. Also, since some people are genetically more prone to addiction we need gene therapies that will modify the brain to make it less prone to addiction.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2005 November 30 07:00 AM  Brain Addiction

toby said at November 30, 2005 2:55 PM:

Correct me if I'm wrong, but as far as I'm aware anything that's inhaled reaches the brain before the liver.

I'm actually rather surprised (and pleased, potentially) by the cessation of smoking result. I would have thought that among nicotine addicted individuals, receiving less nicotine would cause withdrawal symptoms and consequently cause people to smoke more, thereby increasing the risk of most of the nasty side-effects of smoking. Functionally this does exactly the same thing as naltrexone does for opiates, and there are very few people advocating that route for treating heroin addiction.

Patrick said at November 30, 2005 4:04 PM:

"Nanobots are a more distant prospect than vaccines though."

What exactly is the dividing line between vaccines and nanobots? At first this question seems obvious but the more I think about it, the less clear I am as to where you say "This is just a very complex macromolecule that produces an affect via it's chemical and physical shape, even if the shape may change and fold when it comes in contact with the correct environment, and this other thing is a tiny robot."

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