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A recent partnership between The Scripps Research Institute and the School of Medicine seeks to break new ground in the treatment of tobacco addiction.

Scripps and Penn Med have been given nearly $8.2 million from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to explore new potential tobacco cessation therapies.

The lead researchers in the study are Paul Kenny, an associate professor in the Department of Molecular Therapeutics on the Jupiter, Fla., campus of Scripps Research, and Jon Martin Lindstrom, a professor of neuroscience at Penn. They will be using the grant from NIDA to develop novel compounds that could eventually become drug candidates for the treatment of tobacco addiction.

The “ultimate aim,” Kenny wrote in an e-mail, is to improve a patient’s chances of “staying abstinent during quit attempts.”

As it stands now, he explained, a person struggling with tobacco addiction has a very high chance of relapse without medication — “typically 9.5 out of 10” quit attempts end in relapse, he wrote.

“With medication you stand about a 9 out of 10 chance of relapse,” he added.

Recent studies have shown that a certain subtype of nicotine receptor in the brain, when blocked, increases nicotine intake, as opposed to decreasing it.

Kenny and Lindstrom will try to develop drugs that boost the activity of these particular receptors.

According to Kenny, this approach “contrasts” with most treatments available today, “which are aimed at reducing the positive impact of nicotine on the brain’s reward centers.”

Kim Menard, the senior medical communications officer for Penn Med, spoke on behalf of the research team at Penn.

“The team believes that a drug targeting this subtype of receptor will hopefully ease withdrawal symptoms,” Menard wrote in an e-mail.

“It’s a completely new paradigm,” Kenny said. “We’re looking to enhance our knowledge of how these systems work.”

Kenny expressed enthusiasm about collaborating with Lindstrom, and claimed their research scheme is “relatively unique,” as they each approach the study from different angles.

Kenny’s work will center on the behavioral perspective of tobacco addiction — what he called a “top-down” approach — while Lindstrom focuses on the receptor — “bottom-up.”

“This is a wonderful example of how basic academic science can serve as the starting point for translational research,” Kenny wrote.

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