Alzheimer’s disease is thought to account for between 60 and 80 percent of all dementia cases. A terrible disease, it slowly causes those who develop it to not only lose their memory, but to alter their behavior too. What exactly causes Alzheimers is still not entirely known, but that has not stopped researchers from trying to find a way to prevent it.
One group of scientists at Flinders University, Australia, think that they may be on the way to developing a vaccine that could potentially prevent the disease from occurring in the first place. It is hoped that the vaccine might go to human trial within the next few years, and is viewed with such optimism, the researchers have just received funding from the US government.
The researchers claim that the vaccine works by targeting two proteins – beta-amyloid and tau – which are believed to contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s. One hypothesis as to why the disease forms is through the build up of these proteins in the brain, which then disrupt proper functioning. The team say that they can stimulate the body’s own immune system to create antibodies that specifically target the beta-amyloid proteins and clear them from the brain before they start to build up.
“So by developing a vaccine against [beta-amyloid] it seems to work in the animals best if you give it before they get Alzheimer's or dementia and it doesn't work so well once they have developed the disease,” Flinders University’s Professor Nikolai Petrovsky told ABC Australia. “Interestingly the second protein [tau], which has been found more recently, which we are targeting … it turns out if you target tau with the vaccine you can actually reverse the disease even once it has developed.” The overall aim is to have a vaccine that works by targeting both of these proteins separately.
While this sounds too good to be true, it is not the first attempt trying to produce a preventative vaccine to tackle Alzheimer’s. Another recent study has been looking into why beta-amyloid proteins build up in the brain in the first place, and have come to the interesting conclusion that they may actually be a part of the body’s immune system and act in a way to trap invading pathogens. A group from Harvard Medical School are now working to see if they can identify what triggers the build up, and see if they can produce a vaccine against that instead.