July 16 - Scientists are developing a nicotine vaccine that, with just one injection, will prevent the pleasure-triggering chemicals in tobacco from ever reaching the brain. The vaccine is still being tested in the lab, but researchers are hopeful that human trials are just a few years away. Sharon Reich reports.
Smoking … We all know it is harmful to your health. Yet millions of people continue to light up, because quitting is just too hard. But what if kicking the habit was as easy as a one-time injection? (SOUNDBITE) (English) MIKE LONG, SMOKER FROM NEW HAMPSHIRE, SAYING: "I've been smoking since I was probably around 14-years-old. It's a bad habit I got into. My parents were heavy smokers growing up and I was always breathing in second hand smoke and I caught on at a young age so it's very unfortunate. But I would definitely be interested in something like that." Mike Long just might be in luck. Researchers at Weill Cornell Medical school have been working on developing a treatment that could take all the enjoyment out of smoking. Dr. Ronald Crystal explains. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DR. RONALD CRYSTAL, CHAIRMAN DEPARTMENT OF GENETIC MEDICINE AT WEILL CORNELL MEDICAL SCHOOL, SAYING: "We've developed a vaccine where we genetically modify the liver to produce an antibody against nicotine. Now the antibodies are floating around the blood like little pacman that like nicotine. If you smoke and the nicotine passes across the lung the idea is that these little anti-nicotine pacman will gobble it up and prevent it from reaching the brain. So it's a vaccine to block nicotine from reaching the brain." Crystal says that while many anti-smoking campaigns focus on cigarettes, he and his team wanted to find a way to block the sensations nicotine sends to the brain that makes smoking so addictive. Crystal's team tested the vaccine by injecting it into the liver of mice. The antibodies produced by the vaccine suggest that the effect won't diminish over time like that of other antibodies. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DR. RONALD CRYSTAL, CHAIRMAN DEPARTMENT OF GENETIC MEDICINE AT WEILL CORNELL MEDICAL SCHOOL, SAYING: "Until we do human studies we won't know whether it really works or not, but in mice it's spectacular. So if you give a mouse nicotine they're like humans. They sort of chill out, they sort of stop running around. Their blood pressure stops a little bit, their heart rate drops a little bit and if we vaccinate them beforehand with our genetic vaccine it's like you're giving them water. They just behave like normal mice." Next, the team plan to test the vaccine in rats and hope that in 2-3 years they will work up to conducting clinical trials in humans. For Mike Long, that day can't come soon enough. (SOUNDBITE) (English) MIKE LONG, SMOKER FROM NEW HAMPSHIRE, SAYING: "You know it's one of those things where life throws you awkward directions and nicotine is considered the biggest stress reliever in this country you know … it's not easy to quit. It really is not." If the vaccine is a success the researchers say it could be administered preventively - sending a bad habit up in smoke Sharon Reich, Reuters