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Bacterial enzyme may help quit smoking

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Posted August 8, 2015

Scientists have to solve a variety of health issues and not all of the may look important to everybody. For example, some may think that addictions can always be cured by strong will and help of special facilities. However, scientists are trying to help people to get rid of their addictions. Now scientists at The Scripps Research Institute are exploring a bacterial enzyme that might be used as a drug candidate to help people quit smoking.

Smoking is one of the most common addictions and a very dangerous too. Quitting smoking is not easy and requires a strong will, but some turn to drug therapies and now scientists think they are developing one extremely effective drug candidate based on bacterial enzyme. Image credit: Magnus Fröderberg/norden.org via Wikimedia, CC BY 2.5 dk

Smoking is one of the most common addictions and a very dangerous too. Quitting smoking is not easy and requires a strong will, but some turn to drug therapies and now scientists think they are developing one extremely effective drug candidate based on bacterial enzyme. Image credit: Magnus Fröderberg/norden.org via Wikimedia, CC BY 2.5 dk

So far they have found that this particular enzyme can be recreated in lab settings – in other words, scientists can create this enzyme by themselves. Discoveries of this research show a big promise in development of anti-smoking therapy that would help people to come with their smoking addiction. Professor Kim Janda, one of the authors of the study, explained that “The bacterium is like a little Pac-Man – it goes along and eats nicotine”. This analogy to a popular video game is a rather accurate explanation how this bacterial enzyme can be used in anti-smoking therapy.

Problems of assisting people trying to quit smoking are quite significant, because currently used techniques are far from being entirely effective. In fact, current smoking cessation aids are shown to fail in at least 80 to 90% of smokers. The idea behind using bacterium that quite literally eats nicotine is that nicotine would be destroyed before reaching the brain. It would deprive person of the “reward” of nicotine that can trigger relapse into smoking.

Scientists were trying to create synthetic enzyme that would do the same for quite some time, but all attempts were unsuccessful. Now they turned into nature and found a potential candidate – NicA2 enzyme from the bacteria known as Pseudomonas putida. Scientists knew that this bacterium consumes nicotine as its sole source of carbon and nitrogen. In fact, this property made this bacterium perfect for cleaning up such environmental contamination from the soil or elsewhere.

In this new research scientists characterized the bacterial enzyme responsible for nicotine degradation and tested its potential usefulness as a therapeutic.  At first researchers combined a component of blood, known as serum, from mice with a dose of nicotine equivalent to one cigarette. Then they added the enzyme and found rather surprising results – the nicotine’s half-life dropped from two to three hours to just 9 to 15 minutes. Furthermore, scientists note that higher doze of enzyme along with a few chemical modifications could work even more effectively and reduce the half-life of nicotine even further and keep it from ever reaching the brain.

After that, researchers put the NicA2 enzyme through a variety of different tests and experiments to determine its practicality as a drug candidate and got encouraging results. The enzyme stayed stable in laboratory at 36.6 degrees Celsius for more than three weeks, which, according to scientists, is quite remarkable. Furthermore, scientists found that there are no toxic metabolites produced when the enzyme degraded nicotine, which is even more important than the stability of the enzyme for a long time.

However, scientists note that some steps remain to be taken to create drug therapies based on this bacterial enzyme. Now scientists will try to alter the enzyme’s bacterial makeup, which will help mitigate potential immune liabilities and maximize its therapeutic potential. The enzyme stays very stable in serum too, is extremely important for drug candidate. However, scientists are hoping to be able to improve its serum stability even further so that a single injection would last up to a month. Therefore, it will still take some time till this novel drug therapy will start helping people trying to quit smoking.

Source: scripps.edu

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