Smoking – in the genes?

Millions of people around the world are addicted to smoking, and in Europe alone more than 1,2 million people a year die as a result of smoking-related diseases, according to predictions made
by the World Health Organization, the annual global cost of tobacco-related illness will be approximately ?318 billion by the year 2010; Europe will contribute ?105 billion of this sum.

This makes the search for the causes behind addiction to help smokers quit all the more important.

Now, an international research consortium, which is partly funded by the EU, has made a startling new discovery, that the human genetic make-up may contribute to nicotine dependence. In
particular they have revealed that a certain mutation in a particular human gene confers nicotine dependence. In people of European ancestry, approximately half are carriers of at least one
copy of this genetic variant. The study is quick to point out that this variant does not induce people to take up smoking, but instead makes it more difficult for those who are smokers to quit.

These results would not have been possible had it not been for access to a broad knowledge base created by the project consortium GENADDICT, which involved participants from across Europe and
abroad, including the USA and New Zealand.

‘This breakthrough has been achieved thanks to the expertise and dedication of European researchers but also because more and more European scientists are working together,’ commented the
European Commissioner for Science and Research, Janez Potocnik. ‘The European Union has been supporting health research for more than 20 years and we see clearly the benefits arising from these
collaborations. This effort complements other related policies sponsored by the European Commission in the area of public health.’

GENADDICT is a major collaboration involving 12 teams located across seven European countries (the UK, Spain, France, Germany, Poland, Hungary and Iceland). This took on an even greater
international perspective during the survey stage of the genetic markers which involved the participation of 35,000 people in Europe, New Zealand and the United States.

The results of this project have far reaching implications beyond smoking and for addiction in general, including alcohol and narcotics. While the precise genes will vary according to the
specific addiction, this study has proven that tracking down the gene responsible, though difficult, is possible. It is also providing future researchers with valuable insights into the
biological determinants behind addiction and into the dysfunction of the addicted brain. Though still in the early stages, it is hoped that the knowledge gained here will prove useful in the
development of innovative new treatments and strategies that will effectively combat addiction in all its forms.

The results of the research were published in the latest edition of the journal Nature.

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