Anyone who has ever tried to kick the smoking habit knows the tight grip nicotine has on its users — and the difficulty of weaning oneself from the highly addictive drug.

Mike Zhang, a professor biological systems engineering in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, is developing a way to release nicotine’s grasp on the nearly 1 billion smokers worldwide that struggle with nicotine addiction and its ill effects.

How’s Zhang becoming a smoking cessation program officer’s best friend?

He’s developing a vaccine that will make those inoculated immune to nicotine.

The vaccine works by using haptens — small molecules that elicit an immune response — attached to proteins that act as carriers in the bloodstream and make their way to the brain where the vaccine is distributed and blocks the pleasure response.

Zhang said the nicotine vaccine could ultimately be developed as a patch or nasal spray. Patients who are vaccinated will cease deriving the physiological pleasure of lighting up to in one to two days.

So, twenty years from now when someone asks a former smoker if they have a light, it’s likely he or she can thank Mike Zhang when the response is, “Sorry, I don’t smoke.”