One of the potentially most exciting developments in 21st century biotechnology was announced recently in Newsweek in the form of an Alzheimer’s vaccine. The drug is being developed at the Institute of Molecular Medicine, the University of California at Irvine, and Flinders University at Adelaide in Australia.
The vaccine, which has shown remarkable promise in animal studies, works by stimulating the body’s immune system to attack two proteins, amyloid-beta, and tau, which cause plaque buildup in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s that block neural pathways, causing mental impairment.
The animal studies suggest that the vaccine could work as both a preventative and as a treatment. The drug prevented the buildup of amyloid-beta proteins in animals before they even developed the disease. The vaccine also reversed the accumulation of tau proteins after the animals had contracted Alzheimer’s, thus providing a potentially potent treatment.
The researchers anticipate human trials occurring in about three to five years. The problem is to find a dosage that will make a difference in the health of the patient and to ensure that the vaccine has no ill side effects.
The idea is that once the vaccine is available from the biotechnology industry in a clinical setting, it would be administered to people starting about the age of 50 as a way to head off the onset of Alzheimer’s. The drug could also be used to treat individuals with the disease, especially in the early stages. Considering the anticipated increase in an aging population, the development of an effective Alzheimer’s vaccine would have profound effects on health and well-being later this century.
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