Alzheimer’s disease is the most well-known and most common type of age-related dementia. Currently, there is no effective treatment for the disease, which starts off with mild memory loss and can lead to the point where daily activities are severely disrupted.

New results from vaccine research, conducted by the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Centre, suggests that the onset of the condition could be delayed by several years or more. These findings could now lead to a human trial in the next stage of this vaccine being developed.

What did the study involve and what were the findings?

The vaccine used in the study focussed on two specific proteins which are thought to contribute towards the development of Alzheimer's: amyloid-beta and tau. It contained a DNA catalyst that generated the production of these proteins; which worked to encourage the immune system of the mice to develop antibodies to them. This then allowed the immune system to keep these proteins under control.

It is thought that when these two peptides are accumulated and are overproduced in the development of Alzheimer's disease, it leads to a block in the function of proteasome (which break down unneeded proteins) and mitochondrial activity.

The two proteins tau and amyloid-peptide also lead to the formation of plaques and tangles. Plaques are caused by amyloid-beta, and refer to deposits of cells that stick together and prevent nerve cells’ ability to send messages, and tangles are caused by tau where nerve cells become tangled.

The data showed that there was a 40% reduction in the amyloid-beta peptide and a 50% reduction in tau. As well as the immune response being effective, there was no adverse response from the mice.

Previous studies have been undertaken with the knowledge that protein build up could be prevented, however when the vaccine was tested, it caused inflammation in the human brain for some of the participants making it unsafe to use.

What does it mean for Alzheimer's?

There has been some debate about the approaches taken to finding a vaccine for Alzheimer's disease, as other researchers have focused on creating a vaccine to specifically target the two responsible proteins, rather than encouraging the body to create antibodies as an immune response. This technique is called passive immunisation, whereas the method used for this study is referred to as active immunotherapy.

Even further down the line, after a vaccine has been developed, researchers hope that tests will be developed to be able to spot tangles and plaques caused by amyloid-beta and tau. This would allow treatment to begin before the presentation of symptoms, and further stop the progression of alzheimer’s disease.

It can take some time for a human trial to begin, so these results do not suggest that a a vaccine will be ready soon, but the indications from this study are encouraging that a vaccine could be developed at some point in there future.

Where can I find out more about Alzheimer’s?

If you’re concerned about Alzheimer's or want to know more about the condition, you can find helpful information on the Alzheimer’s Society website.