Researchers have devised a vaccine that can make nicotine unable to reach the brain, rendering its effects null and void.

Despite the best efforts of anti-drug campaigns, about 20 percent of adult Americans smoke cigarettes. As of 2010, the international market has grown by annually by 2 percent. Smokers who seek to quit normally find their efforts futile, with between 70 to 80 percent of smokers resuming the habit within six months.

Led by Ronald G. Crystal, chairman and professor of Genetic Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College, the team’s vaccine is meant to use the liver as a means to remove nicotine from the bloodstream before it reaches the brain and heart. The trial was done on mice with positive results. Mice, as with humans, react to a “nicotine high” by calming down and slowing their movements. However, when given the vaccine, no amount of nicotine provided an effect.

Previous work on nicotine vaccines have failed in clinical trials due to their system of delivering nicotine antibodies. The nicotine antibodies would wear off every few weeks, and were unreliable, with each individual needing a different amount in order to be effective. The vaccine in this trial would allow the body to build up immunity by itself with its own antibodies. One shot would provide relief for the rest of the user’s life.

Though the trial has only been conducted on mice, researchers are hopeful that a comparable study on humans will provide the same results, providing relief to the millions of smokers that have tried to quit but have found that other methods have failed. The researchers maintain that the vaccine, if successful in humans, would only benefit smokers who are adamant about quitting. While the vaccine would eliminate any of the withdrawal symptoms associated with stopping, such as nausea, anxiety, and cravings for cigarettes, or shorten the two- to three-month withdrawal timeline, it would mean that any nicotine would cease its effect on the smoker.

The well-documented health issues related to cigarettes are responsible for one in five deaths of Americans. Though it is the other 4,000 chemicals in cigarettes that cause the health problems, it is nicotine that keeps smokers addicted.

The results of the paper were published in Science Translational Magazine.