Scientists claim that an enzyme which ‘eats nicotine like a Pac-Man’ could pave the way for a promising, new anti-smoking therapy!
A study found a molecule that is able to significantly reduce the time nicotine remains in the bloodstream. It could be the tool to help smokers quit smoking for good.
Researchers discovered it can seek out and ‘eat’ the nicotine, before it gets into the brain where the chemical triggers the rewarding ‘kick’ that leads to addiction. No nicotine high = no overwhelming biological urge to keep smoking.
The team believes that it could be used to create an anti-smoking therapy that is more successful than other treatments.
According to lead researcher Kim Janda, a chemical biologist at the Scripps Research Institute, in a press release,
The bacterium is like a little Pac-Man. It goes along and eats nicotine.”
So far, the enzyme, which is called NicA2, has only been trialed in the blood of mice, but the researchers are already testing its potential as a human drug.
Our research is in the early phase of drug development process, but the study tells us the enzyme has the right properties to eventually become a successful therapeutic,” said Janda.
The discovery of NicA2 couldn’t have come soon enough – Janda and his team have spent the past 30 years trying to create an artificial enzyme capable of seeking out and destroying nicotine in the body. The idea was to eliminate nicotine before it could stimulate the brain’s reward system, which what keeps people hooked on cigarettes. However, making that type of enzyme in the lab proved to be a whole lot more difficult than they’d anticipated.
But apparently, it turns out that such an enzyme already exists in nature – inside bacteria that live in the soil of tobacco fields. One of these bacteria, Pseudomonas putida,uses nicotine as its sole source of carbon and nitrogen, and NicA2 is the enzyme that helps it do this.
To test whether that same enzyme might also be able to breakdown nicotine in the body, the researchers combined serum from mouse blood with a hit of nicotine equivalent to the amount you’d get from one cigarette. When they added NicA2 to this cocktail, the nicotine’s half-life was cut down dramatically, from somewhere between 2 to 3 hours to 9 to 15 minutes.
After which, the team then subjected NicA2 to temperatures of 36.7 degrees Celsius (98 degrees Fahrenheit) for three weeks, and checked to see whether it was releasing any toxic byproducts as it chowed down on all that nicotine, in an attempt to figure out if it could actually work as a drug in the human body.
The results were all extremely encouraging, and the researchers comment that by increasing the dose of NicA2, the half-life of nicotine in the bloodstream could be decreased further.
Hopefully we can improve its serum stability with our future studies so that a single injection may last up to a month,” said Song Xue, a graduate student who worked on the research.
The results have been published in The Journal of the American Chemical Society, and although we’re still a long way off turning this enzyme into a usable treatment, the research is pretty exciting.