A new study from scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) showed that a bacterial enzyme, which can be recreated in lab settings, may possibly be used as a drug candidate to help people stop smoking. The research team recently ran across NicA2, a potential enzyme found in nature that consumes nicotine as its sole source of carbon and nitrogen. For the new study, the TSRI researchers characterized this bacterial enzyme responsible for nicotine degradation and tested its potential usefulness as a therapeutic.

The researchers combined serum from mice with a dose of nicotine equivalent to one cigarette. According to a TSRI news release, the nicotine’s half-life dropped from two to three hours to just 9 to 15 minutes when the enzyme was added. Kim Janda, member of Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology at TSRI, says a higher dose of the enzyme with a few chemical modifications could reduce the half-life of nicotine even further and keep it from ever reaching the brain.

The researchers then subjected the enzyme to a variety of tests to determine its practicality as a drug candidate. The TSRI news release notes that the results were encouraging as the enzyme stayed stable in the lab for more than 3 weeks at 98 °F, which Janda noted was “pretty remarkable.” The researchers detected no toxic metabolites produced when the enzyme degraded nicotine.

According to Science Daily, the new research offers a possible alternative to current smoking cessation aids. The next step, according to Janda, is to alter the enzyme’s bacterial makeup, which will maximize its therapeutic potential. Janda says, “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.”

Sources: TSRI, Science Daily