Does an enzyme end nicotine addiction?
The World Heath Organization WHO classifies smoking as a global epidemic that causes around five to six million deaths annually. Researchers have now developed an enzyme that can break down nicotine without causing withdrawal symptoms.
Scientists at the Scripps Research Institute have now developed an active ingredient that could help people quit smoking. The enzyme breaks down nicotine in the blood. The doctors published the results of their study in the English-language journal "Science Advances".
How could nicotine addiction be overcome?
Many researchers around the world are looking for new ways to help people overcome the harmful addiction of smoking - from a vaccine that prevents the beneficial effects of nicotine to magnetic impulses that are delivered to the brain and reduce substance dependence .
Enzyme NicA2-J1 works extremely effectively
The scientists at the Scripps Research Institute had a major breakthrough in this field in 2015: They first discovered a natural enzyme called NicA2 in the bottom of a tobacco field that is produced by a bacterium called Pseudomonas putida. Since then, the team has been working to optimize this enzyme, making it more effective in hunting and destroying nicotine in an animal's bloodstream and staying in the bloodstream longer. The newly developed enzyme is called NicA2-J1. The enzyme has been shown to be extremely effective in reducing nicotine blood levels in rats in animal experiments, the researchers say in a press release. In rat models designed to mimic human nicotine dependence, animals showed an incredibly low nicotine level in their bloodstream after treatment with the new enzyme, the study authors add. More importantly, the animals showed no significant withdrawal symptoms after ingestion of the enzyme.
NicA2-J1 reduces dependency without withdrawal symptoms
What makes this enzyme special is that it removes enough nicotine to reduce dependency, but leaves enough to prevent animals from experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms, the scientists explain. The study also examined the longer-term effects of the enzyme, particularly with regard to relapse into addiction. Nicotine was withheld from the animals for ten days, after which an injection of nicotine was given. The animals that were originally treated with NicA2-J1 showed a significantly reduced addiction behavior compared to the untreated rats, which indicates that the enzyme has long-term beneficial effects.
Side effects are minimal
One of the fascinating aspects of this research is that scientists are working to eliminate nicotine in the bloodstream before the nicotine reaches the brain. Unlike other new techniques, this method prevents the drug from reaching the brain at all. This is a very exciting approach because nicotine addiction can be reduced without causing cravings and other severe withdrawal symptoms, and the process works in the bloodstream, not the brain, so the side effects should be minimal, the study's authors say.
Research on people is necessary
Of course, the results have not yet been reproduced in humans, but the researchers are confident that after years of work, they are now ready to conduct human studies on the first enzyme that destroys nicotine in the bloodstream. Human safety and efficacy are still major hurdles to overcome, but as research continues, this treatment could be an incredibly useful new help to quit smoking. This could save the lives of millions of people around the world, the study authors conclude. (as)