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Dementia Vaccine on the Cusp of Human Trials

Monday, January 13th, 2020

A dementia vaccine developed by Flinders University Professor Nikolai Petrovsky has been successfully shown to “work” in mice genetically programmed to develop dementia.

Harnessing the immune response

Dementia is thought to be the result of the build-up of two different types of proteins in the brain that stop neurons communicating with each other. The proteins are called tau tangles and amyloid plaques. As a vaccine, treatment relies on the body’s immune system to produce new antibodies keyed to these abnormal proteins. When the antibodies attach to the proteins, they pull them out of the system and break them down, thereby helping the brain to function better.  The vaccine known as AV-1959R targets amyloid proteins, and the vaccine AV-1980R targets tau.

Prevention and Cure

In a study just published[i], the US-based working team tested the vaccines in mice engineered to produce amyloid and tau protein clumps. The combined vaccines were formulated with Advax, an “adjuvant” that increases the immune response.  In mice that got the vaccine, the accumulation of proteins in the brain was substantially lower. The researchers also observed a reduction in pre-existing proteins in the brain after administering the vaccine.  This led the team to speculate that the treatment might both prevent the development of Alzheimer’s Disease, as well as reduce the protein clumps once individuals have started to develop the condition.

It is hard to be certain how these proteins in the brain relate to everyday functioning.  Thus, importantly, the researchers also showed that mice who received the vaccine were able to preserve their ability to think and memorise.  Professor Petrovsky anticipates that human trials of the vaccine will begin in the US within a couple of years. Whilst this is incredibly exciting, it is sage to remember that mice brains are radically different to human brains; and several drugs that have shown promise in animals have been unsuccessful in human trials.


[i] https://alzres.biomedcentral.com/track/pdf/10.1186/s13195-019-0556-2

 
The University of Sydney

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