By Rebecca Sheir
The World Health Organization says 20 percent of American adults smoke cigarettes. But researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center are using an unconventional approach to try to reduce that number.
Heather Gilchrist has been smoking a pack of cigarettes a day since she was 18. But the 32-year-old law student says that she's trying to quit.
"It's not my first quitting attempt," says Gilchrist, as she takes a drag from what she calls her daily 'cheat cigarette.' "I went nine months one time, seven months and six months. So it's kind of the law of diminishing returns."
Georgetown pharmacology professor Ken Kellar and his team are developing a drug called Sazetidine-A that could help Gilchrist kick the habit.
"Nobody can pronounce it!" says Kellar with a laugh.
The drug "desensitizes" the brain's nicotine receptors, "So they will not respond again," he says. Which is good, since smokers crave that desensitized state.
Nicotine does act as a stimulant, stimulating "the release of certain neurotransmitters that make people feel good," says Kellar. But it also desensitizes receptors in the brain. So when a smoker can't get another cigarette to turn those receptors off, she can start to feel anxious: a feeling Heather Gilchrist has known all too well.
"My body and my brain, they're like, 'Hey, Heather, time to go light up!,'" she says.
Kellar says he hopes Sazetidine-A could help break that cycle.
The Republican ticket for November's election includes Ken Cuccinelli for governor, E.W. Jackson for lieutenant governor, and Mark Obenshain for attorney general.