An enzyme that could help people quit smoking was developed by scientists and successfully tested in rats. Although the potential to treat human nicotine dependence is still a long way off, researchers believe it could be developed into a pill that prevents smokers from shedding the drug – and possibly without withdrawal symptoms.
Scientists conducted an experiment in which two groups of rats were trained to self-administer nicotine for two weeks. Their nicotine intake escalated, indicating dependency.
One of these groups then received the enzyme and not the other. Both groups were still able to self-administer nicotine.
The rats received different amounts of NicA2-J1
The findings published in Science Advances show that the enzyme is effective in treating nicotine dependence in animal models – and that could be further developed for human use in the future.
It is estimated that nearly 28 million adults smoke cigarettes in the US. About 16 million people are currently living with a smoking-related illness, and reducing smoking numbers is a major public health problem. However, progress is being made as interest rates dropped from 20 percent in 2005 to 15 percent in 2016, but it still remains a big problem across the country. It is estimated that if the current trend continues, 5.6 million children living in the US today will prematurely die from a smoking-related illness.
The research was led by Marsida Kallupi and Olivier George of the Scripps Research Institute in California. George told Newsweek that they need to do more research in mice to make sure that the enzyme is non-toxic and force it accordingly if there are any problems. He also said that they are hopeful that this will lead to human testing.
"So far, we have not seen any toxic effects, so we are very optimistic," he said. "The biggest obstacle here is not scientific, it actually finds the funding that will allow us to bring this approach to the clinic … once the funding is secured, I assume we will make very fast progress."
"The idea here would be that smokers who want to quit take one pill every week or so to keep high levels of the enzyme in the blood and would continue to smoke in the beginning, since the enzyme will capture most of the nicotine, they will become progressively less dependent on nicotine without having gone through the withdrawal, and will find the cigarette less and less attractive.Our data shows that individuals who have this Even if they stopped completely, they would take the enzyme just in case they make a mistake to make sure it does not lead to a complete relapse. "
He said the rats' lack of withdrawal was a big surprise. They believe that this could have happened because the enzyme releases a tiny trace of nicotine in the blood just enough to fight off withdrawal symptoms until the degree of dependency is negligible.
When translated into humans, it could help smokers skip the withdrawal phase and help prevent relapses. "There are many studies showing that smokers switching to nicotine cigarettes do not like them and eventually return to their favorite nicotine cigarette," said George. "The beauty of our enzymatic approach is that the enzyme would denote each cigarette, there would be no way to cheat as long as you take the pill."