A jab that 'vaccinates' people against smoking for life being developed

Richard Alleyne

Just one injection could provide lifelong protection from the cravings of nicotine and prevent the physical effects of smoking such as relaxation and lowering of the heart rate.

It could be used to "vaccinate" children from ever smoking and help smokers to quit.

Scientists at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York have tested the vaccine on mice but could soon start human trials.

Mice which had been given the jab stayed just as active as previously, while those not administered with the vaccine relaxed and their blood pressure and heart activity lowered – classic signs nicotine had reached the brain.

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Dr Ronald Crystal, professor of Genetic Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College and research leader said the jab could help committed quitters beat physical nicotine cravings.

He said: "They will know if they start smoking again, they will receive no pleasure from it due to the nicotine vaccine, and that can help them kick the habit.

"Smoking affects a huge number of people worldwide, and there are many people who would like to quit, but need effective help. This novel vaccine may offer a much-needed solution."

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The vaccine works by genetically engineering an antibody that filters out nicotine when it enters the blood.

The body then replicates the antibody – creating a never-ending supply of immunity.

Dr Crystal said: "As far as we can see, the best way to treat chronic nicotine addiction from smoking is to have these Pacman-like antibodies on patrol, clearing the blood as needed before nicotine can have any biological effect.

"Our vaccine allows the body to make its own monoclonal antibodies against nicotine, and in that way, develop a workable immunity.

"While we have only tested mice to date, we are very hopeful that this kind of vaccine strategy can finally help the millions of smokers who have tried to stop, exhausting all the methods on the market today, but find their nicotine addiction to be strong enough to overcome these current approaches."

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Studies show that between 70 and 80 per cent of smokers who try to quit light up again within six months.

Dr Crystal says the vaccine could be rolled out to non-smokers to prevent them starting in the first place, just as jabs are used to prevent infections.

He added: "Just as parents decide to give their children an HPV vaccine, they might decide to use a nicotine vaccine.

"But that is only theoretically an option at this point. We would of course have to weight benefit versus risk, and it would take years of studies to establish such a threshold."

The team are planning to test the jab on rats, animals and then eventually humans.

The research was published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

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