More than 4,000 attendees at the 11th World Conference on Tobacco OR Health heard NIDA Director Dr. Alan I. Leshner and NIDA-supported researchers from the United States and Canada describe the Institute's portfolio of scientific research into the nature of tobacco use and nicotine addiction.
The conference, held every 3 years, brings together scientists, health care providers, public policy officials, and tobacco control advocates from more than 100 countries to promote comprehensive efforts to reduce tobacco use. The conference met in Chicago in August, marking the first time in 25 years that the meeting has been held in the United States. NIDA served as a contributing partner to the conference, which was sponsored by the American Cancer Society, the American Medical Association, and The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
"The past decade has brought a revolution in our understanding of nicotine addiction and of all addictions," Dr. Leshner told a plenary session of the conference. "We have built a solid foundation of knowledge about why people smoke, why it is so very hard to stop, and how pharmacological and behavioral treatment can help smokers overcome their destructive addiction to nicotine," Dr. Leshner said.
In other conference sessions, NIDA-supported investigators described current research into the genetic and neurobiological characteristics of nicotine addiction, new imaging techniques to improve understanding of the drug's mechanisms of action, and progress in the development of pharmacological treatments such as vaccines and medications to reduce nicotine's addictive effects.
One symposium focused on the role of genetic factors in nicotine addiction and ways in which this improved understanding of genetic influences can contribute to development of more effective prevention and treatment. Dr. Kathleen Merikangas of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, discussed research that reveals intergenerational and other familial patterns of smoking behavior. Dr. Andrew Heath of the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis described genetic factors that influence nicotine metabolism and make some individuals less likely to begin smoking and more successful in quitting. Dr. Rachel Tyndale of the University of Toronto reviewed progress in the identification of medications that can reduce susceptibility to nicotine by reducing nicotine metabolism. (See "Evidence Builds That Genes Influence Cigarette Smoking," and "NIDA- Funded Researchers Identify Compound That Inhibits Nicotine Metabolism, Decreases Urge to Smoke")
NIDA Associate Director Dr. Timothy P. Condon and Dr. Jaylan Turkkan, chief of NIDA's Behavioral Sciences Research Branch, chaired a symposium on addiction science, which provided a look at the broad range of NIDA's nicotine research portfolio. Dr. Frances Leslie of the University of California, Irvine, described animal studies that have identified the critical periods in brain development when exposure to nicotine can produce dramatic and long-lasting changes in brain function. These findings, she said, suggest that children's brains may respond to nicotine exposure in a way that is strikingly different from the response of adults. Dr. Paul Pentel of the Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis discussed progress on the development of a vaccine that could bind to nicotine molecules in the blood, preventing the biological and behavioral effects that nicotine produces in the brain. (See "New Nicotine Vaccine Moves Toward Clinical Trials") Dr. Elliot Stein of the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee described studies that employ functional magnetic resonance imaging to identify regional brain activity associated with the effects of nicotine. Dr. Kenneth Perkins of the University of Pittsburgh discussed the ways in which long-term individual differences such as sex and genetics, intermediate-term differences such as tolerance to nicotine, and short-term differences such as stress or physical activity combine to determine variations in the way in which nicotine affects individuals.