Latimer: Research works on vaccine against nicotine

One of the more promising products under development is a vaccine for nicotine.

Are you a smoker, want to kick the habit but having a hard time doing it?

Of course, you know there are many out there who fit this description and health professionals are looking for ways to help in this goal.

Last year I wrote a column about the ongoing research into the creation of vaccines to help treat and/or prevent addiction to various substances.

One of the more promising products under development was a vaccine for nicotine.

The idea behind the nicotine vaccine was that immunization would stimulate the production of antibodies specific to the nicotine molecule.

Nicotine would bind to the antibodies and then be too large a molecule to cross the blood-brain barrier.

Less nicotine would enter the brain and the addictive effects would be lessened accordingly.

Unfortunately, results of clinical studies into one such vaccine were not very positive.

Although the vaccine was shown safe and was tolerated well, it didn’t seem to be any more effective than placebo.

In spite of these negative results, scientists at Yale continued to examine the vaccine.

Using brain imaging, the researchers observed smokers before and after being immunized to get a clear picture of the effectiveness of the vaccine.

Participants were all smokers averaging 19.5 per day.

They were scanned before and after immunization with the nicotine vaccine.

On scan days, images were taken and then the volunteers were given intravenous nicotine before being scanned again.

Results showed the immunization led to a significant reduction in nicotine’s ability to enter the brain and bind to receptors.

All of the study volunteers developed antibodies for nicotine and also reported significant reduction in cigarette use and cravings.

While this is good news for the eventual viability of a nicotine vaccine, why are these results in conflict with those of the earlier clinical trials?

More research is needed, but the Yale scientists believe there are a number of factors to consider.

For example, the results of the Yale study were taken in the period immediately following immunization whereas the clinical studies compared smoking cessation outcomes months after immunization.

So although the vaccine may work in the short term, it appears the effects so far are transient.

Still, this new study gives hope that perhaps a more effective solution can be found if research in this area continues.

Another study in the Netherlands was also going on at the same time as the Yale research—this one examining the nicotine vaccine in conjunction with another pharmaceutical smoking cessation aid and intensive counselling. Results have not been published yet.

I look forward to seeing where this will lead. It would certainly be good news for many hoping to quit smoking if we had another tool at our disposal to help.

Meantime, if you are a smoker looking for some support in your quest to quit, speak with your doctor about available options.