A new study was published November 20, 2018 in the Alzheimer’s Research and Therapy journal by researchers at the Department of Neurology and Neurotherapeutics at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. The study showed that a DNA vaccine reduced beta amyloid and tau protein buildups in the brains of mice. These two proteins are the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease. Beta amyloid forms into plaques and tau forms into tangles in the brains of people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and this leads to brain damage, memory loss and dementia. The mice had been generated to develop beta amyloid plaques and tau tangles in their brains similar to human Alzheimer’s disease.
Beta Amyloid was Reduced by 40% and Tau was Reduced by 50%
The results showed that beta amyloid was reduced by 40% and total tau was reduced by 50% in mice. The researchers are hopeful that this vaccine will also succeed with humans in early or late stage Alzheimer’s to reverse or change the path of the disease by reducing amyloid and tau in their brains, which could improve the quality of life and also extend life. Earlier similar immunizations that succeeded in mice had dangerous inflammatory side effects in humans like 6% who developed encephalitis, which is an inflammation of the brain. However, these researchers in this latest study used a different method that they believe will be safer in humans, as it did not cause an inflammatory immune response like earlier vaccines.
Herpes Viruses and Prions may be the Cause of AD
The researchers stress that this vaccine will only work if amyloid and tau proteins are found to be the cause of Alzheimer’s disease. Some scientists believe that the cause of Alzheimer’s may be due to strains of herpes viruses or slow viruses called prions that cause the brain to build up toxic amounts of beta amyloid and tau proteins. In other words, the beta amyloid and tau buildups in the brain might be symptoms of Alzheimer’s, but not the cause. If beta amyloid and tau are found to be only symptoms of Alzheimer’s, but not the actual cause, then this vaccine may not work in humans. The National Institute on Aging (NIA) has initiated a clinical trial where people with mild Alzheimer’s, who also have herpes simplex, are being given antivirals to see if the antivirals can protect them from progressing to more severe Alzheimer’s disease.
Herpes Simplex Encephalitis (HSE).
Interestingly, some strains of herpes viruses can cause encephalitis in humans like the herpes simplex virus, which according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, causes 10% of all encephalitis cases and this is called herpes simplex encephalitis (HSE). This is a rapidly progressive disease and is the single most significant cause of fatal sporadic encephalitis in the United States.
Alzheimer’s Disease (AD)
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the main leading cause of dementia and is the most common neurodegenerative disease in the United States. The centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that about 5.7 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease and it is the sixth leading cause of death in Americans. However, according to the National Institute on Aging (NIA), it may actually be the third cause of death after heart disease and cancer, since Alzheimer’s is under-reported and not always listed on death certificates. Alzheimer’s begins as a silent disease where for about the first 10 years there are no symptoms, but amyloid is being deposited into plaques and tau into tangles in the brain. Once symptoms set in extensive brain damage has already taken place. Alzheimer’s leads to very severe memory loss, psychiatric behavior disorders, personality changes, sleep disorders and finally an inability to carry out simple day-to-day tasks. AD puts enormous emotional and financial stress on caregivers and family members. Most people suffering from AD are cared for by voluntary unpaid caregivers, who are usually close family members.
Large sums of money are being poured into research to try to find some cure or way of preventing or slowing down the progress of AD.
Long-term Rehabilitation and Skilled Nursing Care
People with Alzheimer’s may eventually need to go to a long-term skilled nursing care facility. The Van Duyn Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing in Syracuse, New York offers memory care and skilled nursing care. They also have expert therapy programs and some unique recreational programs and activities such as the Seasonal Gardening Club.
Let us hope this vaccine or some other treatment will prove to be successful and will be able to reduce Alzheimer’s symptoms in humans and prolong life.