Researchers are delving into the genetics of nicotine addiction for answers
Some people would never think of trying to quit smoking. The daily routine of reaching for a cigarette after morning coffee is too ingrained. Grabbing a smoke after lunch, or after a hard day at the office -- there's nothing quite like a cool long drag, and the expected nicotine buzz. You can quit anytime you like.
For many, however, quitting smoking is next to impossible.
Frank Leone, M.D., assistant professor of medicine at Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University, is trying to figure out why some people can 'go cold turkey' on cigarettes and nicotine, while others remain slaves to their addiction.
The reasons are many and complex. One of the most intriguing theories says that nicotine addiction is due to a combination of both environmental influences and factors hard-wired into the brain. Some people are simply genetically more susceptible than others to become addicted to the nicotine in cigarettes.
Dr. Leone is using a standard scientific tool, the clinical trial, to attempt to tease out the subtleties of nicotine addiction, and in particular, the potential genetic influence involved in these individual differences. He and his colleagues are looking for 800 pairs of siblings who smoke at least one pack of cigarettes a day and who are nicotine-dependent. Only 400 pairs will be seen at Jefferson; the others will be studied at several other research sites.
In the study, the researchers will sample genetic material from each sibling. "If you share a trait such as eye color, for example, you're likely to share genes that control them," he says. "We're taking siblings who share a trait and going backwards and looking for genes in those pairs that are present more frequently than expected.