U tests vaccine to block nicotine

The vaccine prevents the pleasing effects of nicotine, thereby reducing addiction.

Jamie VanGeest

In the near future, smokers may be able to quit by taking a shot.

The University is testing people on a nicotine vaccine to see if it’s an effective option for people who want to quit smoking.

In a partnership with Nabi Biopharmaceuticals, and with a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the University officials hope to proceed to clinical trials on the vaccine in the near future, said Dorothy Hatsukami, a University psychiatry professor.

To decrease the pleasurable effects of smoking, the vaccine stimulates the immune system to create antibodies that attach themselves to the nicotine molecule, Hatsukami said.

The nicotine molecule then becomes too large to enter the brain, she said.

“People don’t feel the reward effects from taking nicotine and they will stop using cigarettes,” Hatsukami said.

The vaccine also slows the rate at which the nicotine is eliminated from the body, which lessens how often people feel the need to smoke.

In the animal studies conducted by Paul Pentel at Hennepin County Medical Center, testing showed the vaccine to be promising and safe, she said.

The animal research focused on how much nicotine gets into the brain if an animal is vaccinated.

Pentel found there were reduced levels of nicotine in the vaccinated animals’ brains.

The vaccine was safe and tolerated well with humans, and it also increased the number of antinicotine antibodies, Hatsukami said.

The results of human studies conducted at the University were particularly successful, she said, because they weren’t done on people who wanted to use the vaccine to quit smoking.

Hatsukami said this study was a good example of a partnership between the researchers in the academic community and a biopharmaceutical company.

“The University really wants to develop these relationships,” she said.

Hatsukami said this vaccine shouldn’t be the “cure-all.”

“It’s important for people to realize this isn’t going to be the miracle drug,” Hatsukami said. “It’s going to be one of the many other medications that people can use to help themselves quit.”

Two students at the University expressed mixed feelings about a nicotine vaccine.

“I don’t think that it will work because people will only quit if they really want to,” first-year student Dustin Assel said.

Journalism sophomore Michelle Linsmeyer said, “I think (the vaccine) is interesting.”

But she said she doesn’t think the vaccine would keep her smoker-friends from quitting.

Hatsukami said she hopes to test the dosage schedule and the size of the dose in future trials to make sure the antibodies are able to sustain themselves over time.