Alzheimer’s disease is a catastrophic and incurable illness which affects an estimated 5.4 million adults in the United States. However, a study from researchers at Flinders University (Adelaide, Australia) in partnership with a research team at the Institute of Molecular Medicine and University of California (Irvine), have developed a vaccine that could eradicate the disease for good.
While the specific pathology of Alzheimer’s is not so clear, scientists understand that two proteins located in the brain, amyloid-beta (a-beta) and tau, are imperative in the development of the illness. They discovered that when these proteins die, they can develop into plaques and block the connections between brain nerve cells.
Autopsies that have been conducted for this research have demonstrated that these plaques are always detectable in the brains of deceased Alzheimer’s patients; however, they are not sure if any other underlying processes contributing to the disease as well. Nevertheless, the vaccine would essentially address this protein buildup.
“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,” explained Flinders University medicine professor Nikolai Petrovsky, ABC News reported.
Animal studies of the vaccine suggest that the antibodies perform at peak efficiency when blocking a-beta before the illness developed in the subjects. It’s interesting to note that the antibodies work best at reversing the buildup of tau proteins once Alzheimer’s has already progressed.
According to The Australian, the main issues surrounding the vaccine is that it may not be strong enough to make a substantial impact in a patient’s health compared to animals. However, if this problem can be effectively addressed, then the vaccine could be used as preventative treatment in as soon as five years from now and given to people who are around 50 years of age.