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Wednesday, 6 June, 2001, 10:57 GMT 11:57 UK
Vaccine hope for Alzheimer's
The vaccine could prevent people developing Alzheimer's
The vaccine could prevent people developing Alzheimer's
A vaccine is being developed which it is hoped could prevent the onset of Alzheimer's Disease.

Tests are in their early stages, but scientists say that if trials on humans mirror the success of those on mice, the vaccine could "revolutionise" the treatment of the disease.

Eighty patients in four UK centres are taking part in the research.

Some experts have even suggested the treatment could reverse the progress of Alzheimer's, and that families could in future be screened for the disease, and those at risk immunised.


Results indicate that the vaccine prevents the symptoms appearing, but ... it may even reverse the effects of the disease

Harriet Millward,
Alzheimer's Research Trust
The pioneering treatment is described in 'Target Alzheimer's', a report from the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI).

Some estimates suggest Alzheimer's costs the UK 5.5bn per year.

The ABPI say if the average age of the onset of the disease could be delayed by just five years, the number of people developing the disease - and the cost- could be halved.

Brain

Alzheimer's disease is linked to gradual formation of plaques made up of a particular protein in the brain.

These are called senile or amyloid plaques.

They are found close to nerve cells called neurons which are often swollen and distorted.

Scientists for the international pharmaceutical company Elan Pharma developed the vaccine, which is based on a toxic fragment of the main protein in the plaques.

Dame Iris Murdoch, who died from Alzheimer's
Dame Iris Murdoch, who died from Alzheimer's
The vaccine causes an immune response to the protein and seems to prevent the development of the plaques, and slow the deterioration of the nerve cells.

In tests, scientists used specially bred mice that carried a human gene, which meant they developed the plaques.

Some were given the vaccine and others were not.

Those who were given the vaccine retained the mental capacity to carry out tests such as finding their way around a maze, the report author Mike Hall told BBC News Online.

Those who were not vaccinated and developed the plaques were unable to successfully complete the memory tests.

Dr Hall said: "If you could vaccinate, you could find those people who are likely to get early onset Alzheimer's, and hopefully prevent them getting the disease in the first place."

The research into the treatment's effects on humans began around a year ago, but has only now reached therapeutic dose levels - the stage where the drug could have an effect on the disease.

Even if tests of the vaccine on humans are successful, it would be years before it was available.

Harry Cayton, chief executive of the Alzheimer's Society said: "If trials in humans prove to be effective we have the real hope of preventing at least one form of dementia but much research still needs to be done."

Harriet Millward, acting chief executive, of the Alzheimer's Research Trust, told BBC News Online: "Initial results from the Elan Corporation's anti-amyloid vaccine have given a huge boost to research into Alzheimer's disease.

"Not only do results indicate that the vaccine prevents the symptoms appearing, but that by breaking down the plaques, it may even reverse the effects of the disease.

"This is some of the most exciting research currently being undertaken into Alzheimer's disease.

"If all stages of the subsequent testing work, general availability of the vaccine could be four or five years away."

'Devastating condition'

Dr Trevor Jones, director general of the ABPI said: "Alzheimer's is a cruel and irreversible condition, not only for those who develop it, but for their family, friendly and carers.

"Medical science has made great strides in unravelling the mysteries of the brain and research into Alzheimer's has been particularly rapid.

"The development of new medicines is not only giving hope to those at risk from the disease but also offers the prospect of great financial savings for the country."

Alzheimer's disease is a progressive, degenerative and irreversible brain disorder that causes intellectual impairment, disorientation and eventually death.

It is one of a group of illnesses called dementia.

The Alzheimer's Society estimates dementia affects around 700,000 people in the UK.

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See also:

05 Jun 01 | Health
Couple win Alzheimer's fight
07 May 01 | Health
Alzheimer's linked to vitamins
10 Dec 00 | Health
Alzheimer's drug boosted by study
20 Dec 00 | A-B
Alzheimer's disease
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