Part of the show How does the Brain Generate Consciousness, Prof. Susan Greenfield
UK pharmaceutical company Xenova are testing an anti-smoking vaccine. The vaccine works by provoking the body to produce antibodies against nicotine, the addictive component of tobacco. Following vaccination, when a smoker lights up the nicotine is immediately 'grabbed' by the antibodies, stopping it from getting into the brain to produce the buzz that the addict craves. The new vaccine was successfully tested on 50 smokers and 10 non-smokers recently. Dr. John Roberts, Xenova's medical director said "we're very pleased with our results". So why doesn't the body naturally make antibodies to nicotine ? Principally because the nicotine molecule is too small. But if you link nicotine to a much bigger molecule such as a protein, as Xenova have, the immune system can then 'see' the nicotine part of the molecule, and make antibodies to it. Sounds great, but some people are concerned, for instance that it might actually encourage kids to smoke because they think they are immune to the effects, or that since the vaccine doesn't prevent the cravings, smokers might smoke more to try to override the antibodies. According to the researchers though, if their initial animal tests are anything to go by, you just wouldn't physically be able to smoke enough to out-compete the antibodies. Then of course comes the ethical dilemma of whether it is right to deny your children the choice of whether to smoke or not.