Nicotine 'Vaccine' Under Development

If nicotine can be prevented from reaching the brain, smokers will gain nothing from their addictive habit. This is the goal behind Selecta Bioscience's idea of developing a 'nicotine vaccine'.

While nicotine is not a virus, it can be targeted in the same way a virus is targeted, Langer and his colleagues believe. Selecta uses synthetic nanoparticles to prompt the immune system into creating specialized antibodies that bind to nicotine molecules, making the nicotine molecules large enough to initiate an immune response.

Antibodies instigated by the nanoparticles automatically attach to the surface of the modified nicotine molecule because their shape fits exactly. The resulting supersized nicotine compound is thereby prevented from crossing the blood-brain barrier and delivering the normal smoking kick...

The nicotine vaccine does not eliminate the craving for nicotine—instead, it diminishes the effect from smoking the cigarette. As a result, smokers who are given the vaccine will find that they can't alleviate their nicotine withdrawal symptoms by smoking...

A nicotine vaccine should also work for several years. Nicotine drugs like Chantix or Zyban, in contrast, stop working once the treatment ends, and such drugs can't be used longer than several months because of their severe side effects.

The company was cofounded by MIT engineer Robert Langer and Harvard immunologists Ulrich von Andrian and Omid Farokhzad.

Although not quite the same idea, I'm reminded of a creative approach taken to the same problem in sf great William Gibson's 1985 novel Neuromancer. In the story, Case is given a new pancreas by an employer to help him stay away from drug usage that could reduce his effectiveness as an employee.

"Wasting your time, cowboy," Molly said, when Case took an octagon from the pocket of his jacket.

"How's that? You want one?" He held the pill out to her.

"Your new pancreas, Case, and those plugs in your liver. Armitage had them designed to bypass that [stuff]." She tapped the octagon with one burgundy nail. "You're biochemically incapable of getting off on amphetimine or cocaine..."

"Eat it. Eat a dozen. Nothing'll happen."

He did. Nothing did.

Via MIT's Technology Review.

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