Is a Vaccine that Protects Against Alzheimer’s on the Horizon?

By Julie Nakis,

Scientists are one step closer to a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., as a vaccine that can prevent and slow the progression of the neurodegenerative disease may be tested on humans within the next few years.

A key characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease is a build-up of an abnormal protein in the brain, and Australian and American researchers believe this vaccine would target and repair those proteins that build up between nerve cells and essentially cause the disease.

“[The proteins are] a bit like the car in your driveway,” said Professor Nikolai Petrovsky, one of the researchers who developed the vaccine, in a statement to Australian media. “Essentially what we have designed is a vaccine that makes the immune system produce antibodies, and those antibodies act like tow trucks so they come to your driveway, they latch on to the breakdown protein or car and they pull it out of the driveway.”

The research, which was published in the journal Scientific Reports, says the vaccine has the potential to be used for both preventive and therapeutic treatments.

“It could be used both to give people at a particular age, say 50 years of age when they are perfectly fine, to stop them from developing dementia, but potentially also could be given to people at least in the early stages of dementia to actually try and reverse the process,” explained Petrovsky.

Professor Petrovsky and his colleagues said the vaccine formula has proven safe and effective in mouse models. They are hopeful the vaccine will move into human trials in the next three to five years if pre-clinical trials continue to be successful.

Dr. MaryAnhthu Do, a neurologist affiliated with Advocate Christ Medical Center’s Neurosciences Institute in Oak Lawn, Ill., says any research on Alzheimer’s is encouraging, and she looks forward to the results of the trial.

“Until a cure is found for this devastating disease, people should watch for Alzheimer’s telltale warning signs in themselves and loved ones to catch the disease in an early stage when the most effective treatments are available.”

5.4 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s and one in nine people, age 65 and older, have the disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. If no cure is found, it’s estimated that by 2050, the number of people age 65 and older with Alzheimer’s disease may nearly triple to a projected 13.8 million.

The Alzheimer’s Association advises people watch for the following 10 early signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s:

  • Memory loss that disrupts daily life
  • Challenges in planning or solving problems
  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure
  • Confusion with time or place
  • Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
  • New problems with words in speaking or writing
  • Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
  • Decreased or poor judgment
  • Withdrawal from work or social activities
  • Changes in mood and personality

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