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Study shows nicotine vaccine has promise

Hatsukami

Smokers know that nicotine withdrawal can be extremely tough. But now there’s a promising new vaccine that may help smokers quit in an entirely new way.

A new study led by University of Minnesota researcher Dorothy Hatsukami, Ph.D., indicates that the nicotine vaccine NicVax appears to be safe, well-tolerated, and potentially effective for reducing nicotine dependence.

Unlike the nicotine patch, which helps smokers gradually withdraw from nicotine, the vaccine targets nicotine and blocks it from getting to the brain. This potentially reduces the pleasurable effects from smoking and thereby reduces the addiction to nicotine.

The 38-week study included 68 active smokers who were randomly assigned to receive one of three different doses of the vaccine or a placebo. “We found the vaccine has few side effects on the central nervous system,” says Hatsukami, “because the antibody itself is targeted specifically for nicotine and does not alter any functions of the brain.” Hatsukami also says participants who received the vaccine did not puff harder or smoke more to make up for the lower levels of nicotine delivered to the brain. More research is needed to answer other questions about the vaccine, such as how long the vaccine’s effectiveness will last and whether it can be used to prevent smokers from relapsing.

Hatsukami, Forster Family Professor in Cancer Prevention, is director of the University of Minnesota Cancer Center’s Transdisciplinary Tobacco Use Research Center (TTURC). She conducted the study in collaboration with researchers at the University of Wisconsin and University of Nebraska.

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