Alzheimer's vaccine could be trialled on humans in two years

Alexandra Thompson
Close-up medical syringe with a vaccine.
Jab removed tell-tale dementia plaques from the brains of mice. [Photo: Getty]

An Alzheimer’s vaccine may be tested in human trials in as little as two years, scientists have claimed.

A team from the University of California, Irvine, developed a jab that removed tell-tale dementia plaques from the brains of mice.

READ MORE: Alzheimer's drug could reduce cognitive decline by up to 40%

These plaques are formed by “clumping” of the naturally-occurring protein amyloid beta, as well as tangles of the protein tau.

Together, these are thought to trigger neurodegeneration and ultimately cognitive decline.

After administering the vaccine, levels of both amyloid beta and tau declined in the rodents.

This comes as scientists from the University of California, San Francisco, found spotting tau in brain scans could diagnose Alzheimer’s before symptoms strike.

Dementia - the umbrella term for memory disorders - affects around 850,000 people in the UK, according to Alzheimer’s Research UK statistics show.

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of the disease, impacting 62% of dementia sufferers, Alzheimer’s Society statistics show.

In the US, 5.8 million are living with Alzheimer’s, according to the Alzheimer’s Association statistics show.

READ MORE: Christmas carols could trigger festive memories in dementia sufferers

The complex disease is poorly understood. As a result, there are no certain ways to prevent the condition, the NHS reports.

Trials have attempted to reduce either amyloid beta or tau plaques alone, which failed to delay Alzheimer’s progression.

Animal studies suggest these two proteins act together to drive cognitive decline. A double pronged approach may therefore be necessary to combat dementia, the Irvine scientists claim.

To combat this, they tested two jabs - AV-1959R and AV-1980R - in mice with amyloid beta and tau plaques.

Results - published in the journal Alzheimer's Research & Therapy - suggest these generated high levels of immune-fighting proteins, reducing both amyloid and tau.

“Taken together, these findings warrant further development of this dual vaccination strategy for ultimate testing in human Alzheimer's disease”, the scientists said.

This could come about in as little as two years, they added.

READ MORE: The calming effects of yoga 'help keep the brain healthy'

“Our approach is looking to cover all bases and get past previous roadblocks in finding a therapy to slow the accumulation of amyloid beta/tau molecules and delay Alzheimer’s progression in the rising number of people around the world,” study author Professor Nikolai Petrovsky, from Flinders University in Adelaide, said.

In 2050, 152m people worldwide are expected to have some form of dementia - a 204% jump from the 50m last year, according to Alzheimer’s Research UK.

This has been put down to growing life expectancies, meaning people live longer than ever before.

While this research was going on, the San Francisco scientists looked at 32 Alzheimer’s patients in the early stages of the disease.

Brain scans measured amyloid beta and tau levels, with the patients then being tracked for two years.

Results suggest tau may be the initial driver of brain degeneration.

By tracking tau, the scientists hope patients could one day be told how their disease will progress, as well as doctors being better able to treat the individual sufferer.