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BBC Science correspondent Tom Heap
"It is this evidence of returning mental skill which is encouraging"
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The BBC's Simon Jones
"Scientists want to know just how effective the drug can be"
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Harry Cayton, Alzheimer's Society
"This is a significant step forward"
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Thursday, 21 December, 2000, 11:12 GMT
Alzheimer's vaccine breakthrough
Vaccine tray
Vaccine is ready for tests on humans
Scientists say they have developed a potent vaccine for Alzheimer's disease which is ready to be tested on humans.

The vaccine, developed by a team from the University of Toronto, Canada, appears to prevent and treat the disabling memory loss and dementia associated with the disease.

If the results of this study can be replicated in humans it means the serious possibility of an intervention that could treat or even prevent dementia

Alzheimer's Society
Alzheimer's occurs when toxic biochemical compounds known as amyloid peptides accumulate in the brain, forming what are known as amyloid plaque deposits.

These plaques injure nerve cells and this is thought to lead to the symptoms of Alzheimer's.

Previous research has shown that it is possible to destroy these plaques by injecting mice with a vaccine made up of amyloid peptides. However, this has never previously been shown to lead to an improvement in brain function.

The Toronto team, whose research is published in the journal Nature, bred mice with amyloid plaques and mental impairment similar to that seen in Alzheimer's patients.

They used a variation of a test developed at the University of Edinburgh.

Immunised mice

The team "immunised" the mice with a vaccine made from the amyloid peptides.

They found that their vaccine helped to block the production of plaques, clean up the brain tissue and prevent the symptoms of Alzheimer's.

The vaccine works by stimulating the immune system to attack the amyloid plaques.

Lead researcher Christopher Janus said: "Our results also show that pharmaceutical treatments that are directed at blocking the formation of the peptide or that accelerate its removal might also be good ways to treat Alzheimer's either alone or in conjunction with other interventions like vaccination.

"In the future there might be a cocktail of treatments including drugs which block formation and inhibit the toxicity and then a vaccination which will remove the plaque."

The researchers believe this study provides the final element of proof that Alzheimer's is initiated by amyloid peptides.

Dr David Westaway, another member of the research team, said: "While there are other factors that play a role in the development of the disease, there is little doubt that these peptides initiate the process.

"If results from our laboratory studies hold true in humans, this vaccine might well play a key part in eradicating the disabling dementia that is associated with the disease, whether caused by genetic or environmental factors."

Possible intervention

The next step will be for pharmaceutical manufacturers to conduct preliminary trials on the safety of the vaccination, before larger scale testing can begin on its therapeutic effectiveness.

The researchers believe clinical trials could begin on human subjects within the year.

The Alzheimer's Society in London, UK, welcomed the development.

"This is a very exciting piece of research.

"If the results of this study can be replicated in humans it means the serious possibility of an intervention that could treat or even prevent dementia developing."

It is estimated that 600,000 people in the UK have Alzheimer's disease.

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See also:

21 Dec 00 | Scotland
Alzheimer's test offers hope
23 Aug 00 | Health
Alzheimer's and CJD 'similar'
06 Nov 00 | Health
Alzheimer's: how mice beat it
11 Jul 00 | Health
Alzheimer's vaccine 'safe to use'
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