Scientists find old drugs that may help people quit smoking

Credit: Reza Mehrad / Unsplash

In a study from Penn State College of Medicine and elsewhere, scientists found drugs like dextromethorphan, used to treat coughs caused by cold and flu, could potentially be repurposed to help people quit smoking cigarettes.

They developed a novel machine learning method, where computer programs analyze data sets for patterns and trends, to identify the drugs and said that some of them are already being tested in clinical studies.

Cigarette smoking is a risk factor for heart disease, cancer, and respiratory diseases and accounts for nearly half a million deaths in the United States each year.

Previously, researchers had found that people with certain genes are more likely to become addicted to tobacco.

In the current study, the team used genetic data from more than 1.3 million people and machine learning to see the links between a person’s genetics and their self-reported smoking behaviors.

They found more than 400 genes that were related to smoking behaviors. Since a person can have thousands of genes, they had to determine why some of those genes were connected to smoking behaviors.

Genes that carry instructions for the production of nicotine receptors or are involved in signaling for the hormone dopamine, which makes people feel relaxed and happy, had easy-to-understand connections.

For the remaining genes, the research team had to determine the role each plays in biological pathways and using that information, figured out what medications are already approved for modifying those existing pathways.

Most of the genetic data in the study are from people with European ancestries, so the machine learning model had to be tailored to not only study that data, but also a smaller data set of around 150,000 people with Asian, African or American ancestries.

The team identified at least eight medications that could potentially be repurposed for smoking cessation.

One is dextromethorphan, which is commonly used to treat coughs caused by cold and flu. The other is galantamine, which is used to treat Alzheimer’s disease.

The team says some of the drugs are already being tested in clinical trials for their ability to help smokers quit, but there are still other possible candidates that could be explored in future research.

If you care about health, please read studies about why Viagra may be useful in treating lung diseases, and scientists find herbal supplement to treat lung cancer.

For more information about health, please see recent studies about why smokers have a lower risk of COVID-19, and results showing scientists find the cause of lung cancer in never smokers.

The study was conducted by Dajiang Liu et al and published in Nature Genetics.

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