Alzheimer’s vaccine could be a reality after researchers use the body's own immune system against dreaded disease, now they need funding
The research team at University of New Mexico Health Sciences (UNH) hopes to obtain funding to commercialize this vaccine to create an injection that could potentially be tested in human patients
Researchers at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences (UNH) claim to have developed a vaccine that could protect against Alzheimer's. Currently, there is no cure for the disease.
Dr. Kiran Bhaskar, an associate professor in UNM's Department of Molecular Genetics & Microbiology, said in a university release that, going forward, they hope to obtain funding to commercialize the vaccine to create an injection that could potentially be tested in human patients. "However, moving a drug from bench to bedside can cost millions of dollars and take decades," said Dr. Bhaskar in the release.
Alzheimer's disease is a progressive memory disorder that affects nearly one in three seniors and is on the rise, currently affecting 43 million people worldwide.
"Behind the memory impairment, there is a perfect storm of destruction in the brain, stemming in part from accumulations of a protein called tau. Normally a stabilizing structure inside of neurons, tau can accumulate in long tangles that disrupt the ability of neurons to communicate with one another.
"University of New Mexico researchers have developed a vaccine that could prevent the formation of the tau tangles and potentially prevent the cognitive decline typically seen in Alzheimer's patients," said a university news release.
In a paper, published in NPJ Vaccines, the research team reported that they have "engineered a vaccine using virus-like particles (VLPs, for short) that eliminated the tau tangles in mice" that had been bred to develop symptoms like those affecting human Alzheimer's patients.
"We are excited by these findings because they seem to suggest that we can use the body's own immune system to make antibodies against these tangles and that these antibodies actually bind and clear these tau tangles," said Nicole Maphis, a PhD candidate in UNM's Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program, in the release.
Maphis, who works in Dr. Bhaskar's lab, found that when the vaccine was given to mice, they developed antibodies that cleared the tau protein from their brains – and the response lasted for months.
She then tested the animals in a battery of maze-like tests. Mice receiving the vaccination performed remarkably better than those that had not received the vaccination, the researchers said.
According to the research team, MRI scans showed that the vaccinated animals had less brain shrinkage, suggesting that the vaccine prevented neurons from dying.
Maphis also found significantly fewer tangles in both the cortex and the hippocampus—areas in the brain that are important for learning and memory, and which are destroyed in Alzheimer's.
"These results confirm that targeting tau tangles using a vaccine intervention could rescue memory impairments and prevent neurons from dying," Maphis said in the release.
The vaccine was created with help from UNM scientists David Peabody and Bryce Chackerian, the university release said. The pair helped pioneer the use of VLPs to create vaccines targeting dengue virus, hepatitis B, human papillomavirus, and amyloid beta protein (which is also present in the brains of Alzheimer's patients).
"VLPs are derived from viruses that have their genomes removed, leaving only their outer protein shell. Lacking a genome, they are unable to reproduce, but the body's immune system still recognizes them as foreign invaders and manufactures antibodies to neutralize the proteins attached to their surface. In this case, a portion of tau protein on the surface of the VLP triggers an immune response, leading to the elimination of the tau tangles," the release said.