Science

Self-Assembling DNA Could Make You Immune to Cigarettes

Robert Sorokanich, Gawker Media

Self-Assembling DNA Could Make You Immune to Cigarettes

Nicotine, the reason why people smoke, chew or snort tobacco, is hard to quit. The American Heart Association says nicotine is about as addictive as heroin or cocaine, which explains why your cig-sucking coworkers get so grumpy and antsy leading up to a smoke break. Since quitting is so difficult and relapsing is so easy, scientists are eyeing vaccines that make addicts immune to nicotine. The newest, from Arizona State University's Biodesign Institute, uses self-assembling DNA nanoparticles to make your immune system into a high-precision, super-powerful nicotine-zapping machine.

Vaccines work by teaching the body's immune system to recognize and attack the offending substance, clearing it from the body before it can do any damage. For the best response, the target molecule must be properly displayed alongside immune system jump-starters that elicit an immediate response. By arranging these components on a nano-sized DNA scaffold that self-assembles into a precise 3D structure, the research team has created a vaccine delivery molecule that more closely mimics the natural components of the immune system. Yung Chang, who leads the research team, says the controllability of the self-assembling DNA makes a more effective vaccine.

"The DNA nanostructure enables rational design and construction of synthetic vaccines, because of its precision control over the placement of various antigenic components," Chang says. "This approach may offer a new strategy to improve the efficacy of many different vaccines."

While clinical testing is down the road, the DNA-based approach could be a super-precise targeting method for epidemic-fighting vaccines. And once nicotine, alcohol and cocaine vaccines become a reality, you could be fully immune to bad decisions. [ASU via KurzweilAInetwork]

Image credit: Shutterstock/Stepan Kapl

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