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Published on: January 2, 2016
by Madlen Davies for Daily Mail:
A treatment for Alzheimer’s disease is a step closer after ‘very important’ clinical trials got underway to test a potential vaccine.
Researchers have developed the first-ever jab which attacks and kills the ‘tangles’ in sufferers’ brains.
Alzheimer’s can be caused when knots form in the transport system in the brain, meaning key nutrients can’t move through the cells, which eventually die.
But the new vaccine attacks the proteins in the tangles – called tau – hopefully removing them all together, slowing the progression of the disease.
Current treatments for Alzheimer’s disease focus on improving the symptoms, but few are able to halt its development.
Experts at the Research Institute for the Care of Older People (RICE), based at the Royal United Hospital in Bath, Somerset, have now started testing the treatment, and are looking for more volunteers.
Professor Roy Jones, director of RICE, said: ‘This is a very important study. It opens the way to a completely different and hopefully much more effective vaccine.
‘It’s early days. We’re right at the beginning.’
When tangles form in the brain they disrupt the straight ‘tracks’ which carry food molecules, cell parts and other key materials through brain cells.
A protein called tau usually helps the tracks stay straight, but it sometimes collapses into twisted strands, forming tangles which block the vital cell transport system, depriving the cells of nutrients.
The cells then die and this causes the memory loss associated with the disease.
The new study is taking place in Bath, Liverpool and Finland, and involved sufferers being given a vaccine containing antibodies which attack and remove tau in the tangles.
He said: ‘So far, most clinical trials have focused on amyloid protein, which can be responsible for brain cell death and some Alzheimer’s disease symptoms, but this potential drug is targeted at tau protein tangles, that may be linked with memory loss. Another vaccine in development – also pioneered by RICE researchers – targets protein deposits called amyloid plaques in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.
But plaques are not as strongly linked to memory problems as tangles, and the amyloid vaccine is only effective in patients in the very first stages of developing Alzheimer’s.
It is hoped that the tau vaccine will work in patients with more advanced disease.
Dr James Pickett, head of research at Alzheimer’s Society warned that, even if found to be safe, it would be many years before the vaccine could be used as a treatment.
He said: ‘So far, most clinical trials have focused on amyloid protein, which can be responsible for brain cell death and some Alzheimer’s disease symptoms, but this potential drug is targeted at tau protein tangles, that may be linked with memory loss.
‘The researchers are hoping that this could possibly be used as a vaccine, causing the body’s immune system to attack the tau tangles.
‘Although researchers are now looking at whether the vaccine is safe for people to use, it will be several years until we know if it will be able to improve the lives of people with Alzheimer’s disease.
‘With an ageing population and no new dementia drugs in over a decade, the need to find new treatments is more urgent than ever.
‘We need more people to come forward to get involved with scientific studies.’
Photo: The vaccine targets tau proteins (pictured under the microscope) which form tangles in the brain, blocking supplies of vital nutrients to cells, which then die. This triggers the memory loss associated with the disease.
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