Thursday, March 29, 2007

An Alzheimer's Vaccine?

Japanese scientists have developed an oral vaccine for Alzheimer's disease that has proven effective and safe in mice. The team is preparing to move to small-scale clinical trials in humans, possibly this year.

Animals are able to recover their functions after developing symptoms, but humans are less able to do so. It may be that this only works in the early stages of the disease, when symptoms are light. When administered to mice suffering from the disease, which causes dementia and is currently incurable, the vaccine reduced the amount of amyloid plaques in the brain and improved mental function.

Amyloid plaques are believed to be at the root of Alzheimer's. The vaccine is made by inserting amyloid-producing genes into a non-harmful virus. When taken orally, the virus stimulates the immune system to attack and break down the amyloid proteins in the brain.

The treatment was tested on 28 mice genetically modified to develop Alzheimer's disease. Half the animals were given a dose of the vaccine at the age of 10 months, while the control group were not treated. Three months later, tests showed mental function in the treated mice had returned to levels close to those before they developed Alzheimer's symptoms.

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