New vaccine raises hopes for preventive cure for dementia, researchers have fingers crossed for human trials
The vaccine, which combines two drugs, cleared mice brain of proteins and plaque responsible for memory loss and cognitive decline in Alzheimer's patients
Preventive treatment for dementia could be on the cards if a vaccine proves to be effective and safe during clinical trials on humans.
The treatment—a combination of two different drugs—was in the making for over two decades. Recently, it cleared its first test by protecting mice from memory loss. Going forward, researchers will test this in humans.
These drugs clear the brain of proteins and plaque responsible for memory loss and cognitive decline in Alzheimer's patients. The research is backed by the US government and largely carried out in Australia
"It's an exciting time to be starting the new decade — hopefully this is the breakthrough of the next decade if we can get it to work in the human trials," Nikolai Petrovsky, Flinders University Professor and lead author of the study, told ABC news. “It is not something that will be available tomorrow, but it is an exciting step in the right direction.”
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. People with the condition experience memory loss, leading to difficulty in carrying out daily activities. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Alzheimer’s affects nearly 5 million Americans, and is one of the top 10 leading causes of death in the United States. This number is projected to nearly triple to 14 million people by 2060.
A lot of money and research has gone into finding a cure for the devastating condition. Despite this, we still do not have a cure, as many drugs have failed to work during human trials. There is a pressing need to keep searching for a new preventive vaccine to delay Alzheimer's disease and slow down its progression, according to Professor Anahit Ghochikyan, one of the lead authors of the study.
More recently, a pharmaceutical company named Biogen's Alzheimer's drug aducanumab offered hope. However, results from human trials were conflicting: one trial appeared to benefit patients by reducing decline, while the other trial showed no such effects. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is yet to approve the drug, may demand another trial to evaluate the drug, say experts.
Biogen's aducanumab is an antibody and the current treatment is a dementia vaccine -- both of which share a common target: toxic plaques in the brain. But there is a key difference. "With the vaccine, what we are doing is getting the immune system to make antibodies that can recognize those abnormal clumps of protein and will actually pull them out of the system and break them down" Petrovsky tells ABC news.
Biogen's drug has a limitation: it cannot be used to prevent the condition in healthy people, says Petrovsky. “Our vaccine, on the other hand, is designed to prevent and cure the disease,” he adds.
"In the animal models, we can both use it to prevent the development of memory loss by giving it before the animal starts to get these build-ups of proteins. But we can also show that even when we give it after the animals have proteins, we can actually get rid of the abnormal proteins," says Petrovsky.
Petrovsky will work in the US for the next three months. He says, "Our approach is looking to cover all the bases and get past previous roadblocks in finding a therapy to slow the accumulation of toxic proteins and delay Alzheimer's disease progression in a rising number of people around the world.”
The study has been published in the journal Alzheimer’s Research & Therapy.