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   from the issue of November 17, 2005

Research strives for nicotine vaccine


Ongoing research by Rick Bevins and a University of Nebraska Medical Center counterpart may help clear the smoke around nicotine addiction.

Bevins joined the psychology department at UNL in 1996 and established the Behavioral Neuropharmacology Laboratory. His research support over the years comes from National Institute of Health, Nebraska Department of Health, and the UNL Research Council.

Over the last five years, Bevins has been working alongside principal investigator Sam Sanderson of UNMC to create a vaccine to cure nicotine addiction. Bevins said the vaccine may also prevent illnesses related to tobacco addiction by helping individuals abstain from smoking.

"A person who tries to quit 'cold turkey' has a 95 percent chance of a relapse within a year," Bevins said. "Through the use of pharmacotherapies (medicines) the chance of making it increases by 20 percent."

Tested in rats, the vaccine spurs the body to produce antibodies that attach to nicotine in the blood and block them from accessing the brain.

While the vaccine research is ongoing, Bevins' primary area of research is the psychology of nicotine addiction.

Much like the study of Pavlov's dogs, which resulted in the animals reacting to the sounds of bells, Bevins is striving to determine if the addiction to nicotine is a conditioned response.

"It's the whole idea of the bell-food association," Bevins said. "What causes people to smoke? Is it the actual nicotine or is it the times and things they associate with?"

Sanderson said examples of positive reinforcement include smoking with coffee in the morning or having a cigarette while drinking.

"Determining if the meaning of the stimuli, rather than physical addiction, is changing will tell us if it is making it harder to quit," Sanderson said. "All of these 'good things' are being associated with smoking and tobacco."

Both researchers believe the vaccine has the potential to eliminate the positive associations with smoking by blocking the body's addiction.

"A person under the influence of a drug can tell you when they are," Bevins said. "That's what we are striving to take care of with the vaccine - the physical addiction."

Bevins said serious advances in the development of the vaccine have been made, however it remains years away from human testing or use.

"Though we have determined the vaccine can block some of the effects of nicotine in rats, it is still in the pre-clinical stages," Bevins said.

Smith is a senior Journalism and Mass Communications major from Hickman.

This is the third of six stories written by UNL students enrolled in Advertising 451 - Advertising and Public Relations Techniques, taught by Phyllis Larsen.



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