By destroying nicotine molecules before they even hit the brain.
Cigarette smoking is the number one cause of preventable death in the United States and kills nearly 500,000 Americans annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
But quitting smoking is easier said than done. The American Cancer Society reports that just 25 percent of smokers can stay smoke-free for six months, even with the help of medication or over-the-counter products like nicotine patches.
Scientists have been attempting to find the golden cure for smoking for years, and now, a new and improved vaccine may successfully do the trick.
The nicotine vaccine helps train the body to destroy nicotine molecules before they reach the brain, which will eliminate the effects of the drug as well as a person’s desire to smoke.
This isn’t the first nicotine vaccine — in fact, two nicotine vaccines were tested in clinical trials a few years ago. However, the vaccines proved to be pretty fruitless, only working effectively in about 30 percent of the patients.
Then, researchers from the Scripps Research Institute in California developed a more effective nicotine vaccine by slightly tweaking the molecules towards which the body forms an immunity. You see nicotine actually comes in two different forms that are mirror images to each other: "right-handed" nicotine and "left-handed" nicotine. Previously, vaccines have targeted both versions of the molecule, but the left-handed form is by far the most common in cigarette smoke.
In the newly designed vaccine, researchers solely targeted left-handed nicotine, a change that increased the vaccine's effectiveness in mice by an impressive 60 percent, as concluded in the results published in the Journal of Medical Chemistry last year.
Now, the same scientists from the Scripps Research Institute have even further improved the vaccine by altering the molecules that signal the immune system to attack nicotine. Over time, the molecules essentially train the immune system to destroy the nicotine molecules.
In the mice, the researchers observed that the right combination of carrier proteins and nicotine molecules helps the body develop a strong antibody response, thus suggesting that the vaccine was effectively working.
Next up, the researchers plan to figure out the physical dynamics between the immune system and various molecules in the vaccine in order to determine the necessary concentration of antibodies to make the vaccine work.
They also plan to test the vaccine on rats, which should provide them with a better idea of how the vaccine could be clinically feasible and effective in humans.
The new study is also published in the Journal of Medical Chemistry.
Hopefully smokers who are trying to quit will soon have a new option to help them along the way.
Other innovative ways that scientists are investigating as smoking cessation methods include an FDA-approved Alzheimer’s drug and even hallucinogenic mushrooms. It will be interesting to see which methods come out on top.