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Douglas Capraro Douglas Capraro

How Blood Tests Could Hold the Key to Helping Smokers Quit


The rate at which individual smokers break down nicotine in their blood determines their best strategy, researchers say.

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substance-shutters190780088-doctor-doing-blood-workNew research suggests that a blood test, measuring the speed at which an individual breaks down addictive nicotine, could hold the key to help smokers find their best strategy to quit smoking.

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania enlisted some 1,240 people on different smoking cessation programs. Volunteers were given either nicotine patches, a non-nicotine based prescription drug called varenicline, or a placebo. Their blood was tested to see whether nicotine broke down at a normal or slower rate, while doctors balanced potential side-effects against the harms of continued smoking.

The study, published in a Lancet medical journal, concluded that those volunteers who broke down nicotine at a normal rate had a better chance of quitting with varenicline than they did with nicotine replacement patches. The volunteers who broke down nicotine at a slower rate benefited equally from all three methods, on the other hand—but they experienced more side effects with varenicline.

Professor Caryn Lerman, who led the research team, says that for some smokers who have a normal metabolism of nicotine, “The chance of success might be low on the patches but could double if they take the pill.”  Meanwhile, “for a third of the population with slower breakdown, cheaper patches might be best.” However, Professor Neil Davis of the University of Bristol says that “The cost-effectiveness of these tests would need to be taken into account.” Scientists have so far only used these blood tests for research but say they could easily be developed for wider use.