Researchers at a university in Quebec say they have found a way to stimulate the brain’s defenses against Alzheimer’s disease. The discovery could mean a treatment for the disease and even a vaccine to prevent it.
Alzheimer’s is something that presents a continual fear among seniors because it attacks memory, clear thinking and eventually least to dementia. The symptoms usually begin to appear after age 65 although there is also the possibility of an early onset version.
Ronald Reagan was a victim of Alzheimer’s.
The 10 years of research also involved GlaxoSmithKline, the pharmaceutical firm.
One of the main characteristics of Alzheimer’s disease is the production in the brain of a toxic molecule known as amyloid beta, said the university. Microglial cells, the nervous system’s defenders, are unable to eliminate this substance, which forms deposits called senile plaques, it added.
The team led by Serge Rivest, a professor at Université Laval’s Faculty of Medicine, identified a molecule that stimulates the activity of the brain’s immune cells. The molecule, known as monophosphoryl lipid A, has been used extensively as a vaccine by GlaxoSmithKline for many years, and its safety is well established, the university said, adding:
In mice with Alzheimer’s symptoms, weekly injections of monophosphoryl lipid A over a 12-week period eliminated up to 80 percent of senile plaques. In addition, tests measuring the mice’s ability to learn new tasks showed significant improvement in cognitive function over the same period.
The researchers see two potential uses for monophosphoryl lipid A. It could be administered by intramuscular injection to people with Alzheimer’s disease to slow the progression of the illness. It could also be incorporated into a vaccine designed to stimulate the production of antibodies against amyloid beta.
“The vaccine could be given to people who already have the disease to stimulate their natural immunity,” said Rivest. “It could also be administered as a preventive measure to people with risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease.”
“When our team started working on Alzheimer’s disease a decade ago, our goal was to develop better treatment for Alzheimer’s patients,” explained Rivest. “With the discovery announced today, I think we’re close to our objective.”