Researchers at the University of New Mexico (UNM) are working on a vaccine that they hope could help prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
Associate Prof. Kiran Bhaskar of the UNM’s Health and Sciences Department has been quite passionate about studying the medical condition for the last decade. He said they started to work on a vaccine in 2013.
Bhaskar said, “I would say it took about five years or so to get from where the idea generated and get the fully functioning working vaccine.”
The professor and his colleagues started to test the vaccine on mice; however, it has not yet been shown whether it works in humans.
PhD student Nicole Maphis said, “We used a group of mice that have Alzheimer’s disease, and we injected them over a series of injections.” She explained that the vaccine targets a specific protein called “tau” that is commonly found in the Alzheimer’s patients’ brain.
Maphis added, “These antibodies seem to have cleared (out) pathological tau. Pathological tau is one of the components of these tangles that we find in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease.” According to the UNM, the response lasted for months.
The researcher noted, “Those long tangles disrupt the ability of neurons to communicate with one another,” adding that tau is “normally a stabilizing structure inside of neurons.”
The mice were given a series of maze-like tests. The researchers found the mice that received the vaccine had performed much better than those that had not received it.
However, vaccines or drugs that seem to work in mice do not always have the same effect in humans.
It is important to conduct a clinical trial that involves people to see if the vaccine helps human beings, which is quite difficult and expensive with no guarantee of success.
Bhaskar said, “We have to make sure that we have a clinical version of the vaccine so that we can test in people.”
It would cost the UNM at least $2 million to test just a small group. At present, Bhaskar and Maphis are looking for partnerships that could help them toward a clinical-grade vaccine. According to the UNM, Alzheimer’s disease affects almost one-third of senior citizens and is on the rise, “currently affecting 43 million people worldwide.”