Vaccine Aims to Snuff Out Smoking
Could tobacco-related illnesses and diseases soon be a thing of the past? A vaccination for nicotine addiction is currently being developed and early signs seem to indicate the medical concoction could indeed be a revolutionary game-changer for people looking to quit smoking. Even better, the vaccine could be available in just a few short years.
Blocking the Nicotine
Mike Zhang, a professor of biological systems engineering in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, is working to develop the vaccine. It works by using biodegradable nanoparticles to block nicotine molecules from the brain.
After several days of the brain being nicotine-deprived via this vaccine, physiological pleasure is no longer gained from smoking tobacco. Although it’s unclear whether it will be developed as a patch or nasal spray, Zhang was awarded a $2.4 million grant by the National Institutes of Health to develop the vaccine and test it on mice.
With cigarette smoke containing over 250 toxic chemicals, Zhang says nicotine is just as addictive as heroin or cocaine. “When someone smokes, the brain makes more dopamine in response to receiving the nicotine,” he explained.
“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 people die from tobacco-related diseases each year; another 8.6 million have some form of illness related to smoking. For Zhang, this research is more than a job; it’s also personal. Several members of his family currently smoke cigarettes and his aunt died from smoking-related lung cancer.
Other Quit Smoking Options
While the world is eager to see this vaccine hit the market, another researcher made his own bold claims back in July. Professor Coenraad Koegelenberg, a professor at the University of Stellenbosch in Cape Town, South Africa, said he found a “surefire” way to quit smoking.
Koegelenberg led a study published in the medical research journal JAMA that claimed the most effective way to give up smoking was through nicotine patches and the prescription drug varenicline.
Varenicline, much like Zhang’s vaccine, works by blocking the pleasurable effects of nicotine in the brain. Using 446 smokers in the study, Koegelenberg and his team of researchers found that 65.1 percent of the group who received the drug and nicotine patches were able to stay smoke-free six months later, compared to 46.7 percent of the group who only received varenicline.
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