Preventing Alzheimer’s: Is There a Vaccine?
What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) occurs when brain cells responsible for memory, behavior, and other brain functions die. It usually develops later in life and worsens over time.
No cures or vaccines currently exist to prevent it. However, researchers around the world are working to create medications that will prevent or treat this progressive disease.
Although there aren’t any surefire ways to prevent the disease, you can take steps to lower your risk. For example:
- eat a healthy diet
- exercise regularly
- challenge your mind with games such as crossword puzzles
- manage other health risks such as obesity, diabetes, and smoking
These activities may help keep your mind well nourished, sharp, and increase oxygen and blood flow to the brain.
Scientists know that high levels of a protein called beta amyloid are found in the brains of AD patients. However, the cause of Alzheimer’s disease is still unclear. This makes creating a vaccine against it challenging.
Treating a non-infectious disease such as AD with a vaccine is still a new area of research. In addition, there is no guarantee that a vaccine to prevent beta-amyloid from building up will prevent AD.
President Obama signed into law the National Alzheimer’s Project Act (NAPA) in 2011. NAPA was the first law to outline a national strategy for research and care of people with AD.
In 2012, the National Alzheimer’s Plan was released. Its goal is to discover effective AD prevention methods by 2025. The plan includes research projects around the world.
First Vaccine Tests
The first animal tests of an Alzheimer’s vaccine were encouraging. A 2000 study reported that a nasal spray of synthetic beta amyloid peptide reduced the accumulation of beta amyloid in the brains of mice, according to the National Institute on Aging. However, a follow-up study in humans was stopped due to unexpected side effects.
A team of Canadian researchers reported the first round of encouraging vaccine research in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The experimental drug aims to stimulate the body’s natural immune response against the growth of beta-amyloid protein in the brain.
Researchers envision a vaccine that could be given to healthy people as a prevention method and to people with AD to reduce beta-amyloid in the brain.
Researchers gave an experimental vaccine called UB-311 to a small group of patients with mild to moderate AD. According to a study presented at the 28th International Conference of Alzheimer’s Disease International in April 2013, the drug appeared to be safe and showed encouraging results. Researchers noted improvements in brain function among those who received UB-311, especially older patients with mild AD.
Past AD drug research has focused largely on treating symptoms. As of November 2013, there are five medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to help relieve temporary problems with memory and cloudy thinking. Emerging efforts aim to develop drugs that actually change the course of the disease itself.
- Toll-like receptor 4 stimulation with the detoxified ligand monophosphoryl lipid A improves Alzheimer’s disease-related pathology. (2013). Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences. Retrieved Nov. 11 from http://www.pnas.org/content/110/5/1941.full
- Treatment Horizon. Alzheimer’s Association. (2013). Retrieved Nov. 11 from http://www.alz.org/research/science/alzheimers_treatment_horizon.asp
- Nasal Alzheimer’s vaccine successfully tested in mice. (2000). National Institute on Aging. Retrieved November 11, 2013 from http://www.nia.nih.gov/newsroom/2000/10/nasal-alzheimers-vaccine-successfully-tested-mice
- Site-specific amyloid-beta vaccine for immunotherapy of Alzheimer’s disease. (2013). 28th International Conference of Alzheimer’s Disease International Abstract Booklet. Retrieved Nov. 13, 2013 from http://www.alz.co.uk/sites/default/files/conf2013/adi-conference-2013-abstracts.pdf