A vaccine to prevent Alzheimer’s disease may be just years away from being developed, according to new research presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, held this week in Toronto.
A vaccine targeting the beta-amyloid protein found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients – and other proteins that may not be discovered until a medication can treat the disease – is being tested in Boston by scientists at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Investigators at the laboratory of Dr. Francis Coppola are examining four different proteins – one targeting beta-amyloid, and three others that can affect nerves in the brain. If successful, the vaccine could potentially protect memory and learning in Alzheimer’s patients, those with Parkinson’s disease, and people with normal brains who have several risk factors.
After playing a video game, some participants saw a difference in how their brain responded to prompts: they could choose different ways to tell the game they had been told to play a certain shot.
The study involved more than 50 participants who did not have Alzheimer’s. Coppola then showed those same subjects six still-life images of unengaged or busy rooms and then asked them to choose which was more like a classroom or a kitchen.
After repeated sessions, results showed participants who received the Alzheimer’s vaccine showed only the same reaction – cognitive decline was offset by a boost in the brain’s ability to handle tasks.
Study author Linda Laufer said the vaccine seems safe and effective with small and moderate doses.
Laufer said they may be able to initially apply the vaccine only to patients in their 50s and 60s if clinical trials are successful. Otherwise, the vaccine could be used safely for all ages, she said.
The first human trial of the vaccine is expected to begin in summer 2020.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, and is estimated to affect close to 5 million Americans.
Coppola said results from human testing of the vaccine will be published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.
The Boston-based drugmaker Merck & Co. is also studying a vaccine to prevent Alzheimer’s, the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease reported in July. A previous, 10-year study of 556,000 people found that those who got the vaccine lowered their risk of getting Alzheimer’s by 60 percent.
However, as the delay in finding a treatment suggests, just because you can prevent it does not mean you will never develop it.