An Alzheimer’s vaccine could be just a few short years away, according to researchers from Australia and the United States. Initial pre-clinical results show that the vaccine could slow or reverse the effects of Alzheimer’s in patients with dementia in addition to preventing the disease when administered to healthy people. Human clinical trials of the new Alzheimer’s disease vaccine are expected to begin within two years and last about three years.
According to a study published in Nature’s Scientific Reports journal, the primary cause of Alzheimer’s is thought to be plaque that is formed due to the presence of the protein amyloid-beta, but dementia in Alzheimer’s patients also correlates with the presence and accumulation of the protein amyloid-tau. Both of these proteins are targeted by the new Alzheimer’s vaccine, and initial results show both therapeutic and preventative applications.
“In particular, the same vaccine platform could be used to both prevent the onset of [Alzheimer’s disease], and also slow down development of tauopathy-associated dementia,” the study author wrote.
Additional research is required to determine the most effective combination of the amyloid-beta and amyloid-tau vaccines. Once human trials have been completed, treatment for Alzheimer’s could involve a number of sequential vaccines that target each protein, or a combined vaccine that targets both molecules at the same time.
Work on the new Alzheimer’s vaccine is a joint project between a team from Flinder’s University in Australia, the Institute of Molecular Medicine, and the University of California, and it represents the latest advance in a global race to identify some type of cure or treatment for dementia.
According to a report from Flinder’s University, more than 7.5 million people are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease each year, and the global population of dementia cases nearly reached 50 million in 2015. The global costs of dementia-related conditions like Alzheimer’s are greater than $600 billion each year, and the United States has earmarked $350 million worth of funding for the National Institute of Health to go towards Alzheimer’s research.
This new Alzheimer’s vaccine is just one out of 244 compounds that have been tested in more than 400 clinical trials in the last decade, according to Flinder’s University, and only one of those was ever approved for therapeutic use. However, initial animal tests of the new vaccine have been promising.
International Business Times reports that the successful animal trials involved mice that were genetically modified to suffer from accelerated dementia. The mice were then provided with vaccine candidates that successfully produced antibodies to bind with the two proteins commonly associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
“We have demonstrated in mice genetically modified to get accelerated dementia that our vaccine candidate produces antibodies which bind to the proteins a-beta and tau,” Flinders University Professor Nikolai Petrovsky told the Times. “In addition, we were able to collect these antibodies from the vaccinated mice and show that the antibodies indeed targeted the abnormal proteins in brain sections from deceased Alzheimer patients, thereby proving these vaccine should work in humans and not just mice.”
With successful animal trials out of the way, the team was able to secure funding from the National Institute of Health. The funding will allow work on the vaccine to progress toward human clinical trials, which are expected to begin within two years and last about three years.
“If we are successful in pre-clinical trials, in three to five years we could be well on the way to one of the most important developments in recent medical history,” Petrovsky said of the work that is currently underway.
According to the International Business Times, initial human trials will focus on patients who are already suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s disease to determine how effective it is at slowing or reversing the effects of the disease. Although the same vaccine could theoretically prevent Alzheimer’s altogether, trials involving healthy individuals will be more complicated and take much longer.
“To show our vaccine works in healthy individuals who have not yet developed Alzheimer will take a lot more time, as it could involve having to immunize hundreds of thousands of subjects and then follow them long term to see we have prevented them getting Alzheimer’s,” Petrovsky said. “Such a trial may last 10 to 15 years and will likely cost hundreds of millions of dollars.”
Would you sign up to test this new Alzheimer’s disease vaccine, or do you think it will turn out like the other 243 failed attempts to cure or prevent Alzheimer’s in the last decade?
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