Several scientific teams at medical universities and pharmaceutical companies are working to develop a vaccine that can induce the body’s own immune system to attack the amyloid plaques that build up in the brains of those with Alzheimer’s disease. While the first clinical trial for an Alzheimer’s vaccine was halted in early 2002 due to serious safety problems, many experts remain convinced that there is still hope for developing an immune-based approach to treating Alzheimer’s.
A number of different approaches to vaccine development are in the works. In one novel approach, scientists administered the vaccine to mice through the nose, rather than by injection. In that study, when young mice bred to have symptoms of Alzheimer’s were repeatedly given the human amyloid via the nasal route, the mice had a much lower amyloid burden at middle age than animals not receiving the vaccine. Interest in the vaccine approach heightened upon recent preliminary reports that amyloid vaccination prevents cognitive decline in another mouse model of the disease, suggesting that a vaccine might indeed make a difference in the clinical symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Preliminary studies in animals are now underway to test the safety and potential efficacy of these vaccines, which may one day be a valuable part of the armamentarium doctors employ to battle Alzheimer’s.