Vaccine for Alzheimer's?

Seven's On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg
April 9, 2008 9:00:00 PM PDT
Alzheimer's disease is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States. There are drugs to treat the symptoms, but none to target the cause. Now, researchers believe they may be one step closer to stopping the disease in its tracks and saving millions of lives.Like many families, Jim and Louise Arnold know Alzheimer's disease all too well. With his wife close to his side, Jim has been fighting the debilitating disease for nearly five years.

Now, researchers at NYU Medical Center are working on a vaccine that may help Alzheimer's patients like Jim. The vaccine works by removing clumps of Tau protein in the brain that kill the neurons responsible for memory.

"The more you have of these Tau aggregates in the brain, the more severe your dementia is," said Dr. Einar Sigurdsson, an assistant professor of psychiatry and pathology at NYU Medical Center.

The vaccine stimulates the immune system to produce antibodies that attack the Tau protein.

"This represents a novel approach that has potentially substantially therapeutic implications," Dr. Sigurdsson said.

Other scientists are focusing on stem cell therapy to re-grow dying neurons.

"If you lost the neurons, the brain doesn't work, doesn't form the new memory, and also, start losing even old memory," said Dr. Kiminobu Sugaya, a professor of molecular biology at the University of Central Florida in Orlando.

In order to create an ideal condition for stem cells to grow into neurons, researchers at the University of Central Florida regulate the level of amyloid precursor protein, or APP, a protein associated with Alzheimer's.

"If we transplant the stem cell, we should be able to recreate part of the brain," Dr. Sugaya said.

They are two breakthroughs that may help patients like Jim continue making memories. Scientists are also studying the impact omega-3 fatty acid has on the progression of Alzheimer's disease. Clinical trials are currently taking place across the United States.