James Nicoll, professor of neuropathology at Southampton University, in the U.K., found that a vaccine can kick-start the immune system into action, and wipe out plaques that stop the brain from signalling. The vaccine is made from the same amyloid-beta protein that is found in the brains of Alzheimer’s sufferers. Prof. Nicoll said he was amazed to find the injections removed the beta-amyloid clusters in people with the condition, but was dismayed to find it did not stop mental decline or early death. However he believes that vaccinating people between 40 and 50, before they show any sign of the disease, could prevent the plaques from ever forming. Speaking at the Cheltenham Science Festival, he said: “We do know that people aren’t affected by Alzheimer’s until later in life but it takes a good 20 years for the disease to emerge. “So we would probably want to start vaccinating people in their 50s or 40s. “It’s possible that the amyloid-beta accumulation causes a cascade of things which you can’t reverse. “But could we vaccinate before that started? For me that is the most interesting and exciting question. It could prevent the accumulation in the first place.”
But could we vaccinate before that started? For me that is the most interesting and exciting question. It could prevent the accumulation in the first place.
A study in Columbia is currently testing the theory on a family who are genetically predisposed to Alzheimer’s disease.But it will be decades before scientists know if the vaccine has been effective.
Alzheimer’s caused by common infections?
In separate research, Professor Clive Holmes, professor of biological psychiatry at Southampton University, warned that Alzheimer’s could be caused and exacerbated by common infections such as gum disease and flu. He suggested that the apathy experienced by many dementia sufferers is caused by the same brain mechanism that makes people feel listless and unsociable when they are fighting an infection. The amyloid plaques in the brain cause a heightened response to inflammation that make people feel permanently “under the weather.” “Low grade infections can be a disaster in people with Alzheimer’s Disease,” said Prof Holmes. “In care homes across the country you will see patents who are disinterested in life. It is almost like they are experiencing flu in their brains. “We think that infections are contributing to the development of Alzheimer’s but could they actually be causing the disease in the first place? “We are getting increasing evidence to suggest this might be the case.”