YOUNG RESEARCHERS. The use of e-cigarettes and other non-tobacco nicotine products is increasing, and researcher Louise Adermark wants to find out more about the mechanisms behind nicotine addiction. She also wants to develop practical strategies to help users quit. She has now received a consolidator grant from the Swedish Research Council of twelve million SEK.
Nicotine is not an illegal drug, and normally it does not turn the lives of users upside down. For this reason, it is not always considered a particularly serious drug, but nicotine is actually one of the most addictive substances the body can be subjected to.
“It is hard to stop smoking. Most people who try relapse. That’s why it is important to find new ways of helping people to stop smoking, particularly with the increasing use of non-tobacco nicotine products among young people,” says Louise Adermark, who has partnered with the County Council, tobacco addiction counsellors, and non-smoking generation to share new findings about nicotine addiction.
Nicotine in the brain
Together with research colleagues at the Addiction Biology Unit, she has previously shown in animal studies that animals exposed to nicotine early in life are more willing to take risks. They have also shown that nicotine disrupts the brain’s communication in a way that persists several months after ending use. Nicotine changes brain regions important for reward, forming habits, and reactions linked to signals previously associated with the drug. Several of these regions are also active in learning motor skills. Together with colleagues, Adermark was able to show in rats that several of these changes in the brain could be treated with motor-skill training.
The research project for which Adermark has received the consolidator grant maps the addiction mechanisms of nicotine and evaluates new strategies for reducing risk of relapse. She and her colleagues evaluate direct and long-term effects of nicotine, not just on the brain but also on cardiovascular performance.
“We have lots of different interesting findings that we have begun to follow up, and I really wish we had more hours a day.”
She describes herself as having an unhealthy level of curiosity, and it was her curiosity that sparked her interest in becoming a researcher.
“I stopped brushing my teeth when I was little just to find out what it felt like to fill a cavity, and I always have to call when playing poker regardless of how bad my hand is,” she says with a laugh.
Dare to invest
The consolidator grant provides some stability for her research for the coming six years.
“It means I can dare to test some of our more time-consuming hypotheses without worrying about not obtaining results in time for the next round of grant applications. The grant also provides more employment security and the potential of retaining the group’s scientific expertise,” says Adermark, an associate professor in neurobiology at the Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology.
TEXT: ELIN LINDSTRÖM