Scientists are working on a vaccine to delay or reduce Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers say they are close to testing the vaccine on humans.
In spite of all the research and money spent, no reliable Alzheimer’s treatments are available yet. But researchers believe they may be able to cut down the number of Alzheimer’s sufferers half.
At the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, a team of scientists has developed an experimental vaccine that is designed to reduce two proteins in the brain, beta-amyloid and tau, that are associated with Alzheimer’s Disease. Buildup of these proteins prevents the brain from functioning normally. In mice, the vaccine reduces beta-amyloid protein by up to 40 percent and tau by up to 50 percent.
If the vaccine has the same effect on humans, it could delay the onset of Alzheimer’s by five years, or cut in half the number of people affected.
The main problem with animal studies is that human diseases and immune systems don’t always work the same way. Another problem is that proteins can build up in the brain for 20 years before a patient will have symptoms. So patients would have to agree to taking the vaccine long before they know if they are susceptible to the disease. At this time, tests that show who is at risk for Alzheimer’s are expensive.
The vaccine may be tested for safety on monkeys before trying it on humans, so it will probably be 10 years or more before it is available.
At this time, around 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that by 2060 there will 14 million. The National Institute of Health will spend 2.3 billion on Alzheimer’s research this year.
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