One of the leading causes of dementia in humans is Alzheimer’s disease. The condition not only leads to memory loss, but also a decline in cognitive thinking. Unfortunately, there has been no effective vaccination for the disease. That may be about to change. Researchers from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas claim that they might have just developed a potential vaccine for Alzheimer’s that is capable of reducing dementia cases by up to 50 percent.
The research team tested the new vaccine on mice. They discovered that the vaccine prompted the body to manufacture antibodies that reduce the buildup of tau and amyloid, two proteins that usually indicate the presence of Alzheimer’s.
“If the onset of the disease could be delayed by even five years, that would be enormous for the patients and their families… The number of dementia cases could drop by half,” Doris Lambracht-Washington, a professor of neurology and neurotherapeutics at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, said in a statement (USA Today). The researchers hope that the vaccine will soon enter human trials.
Alzheimer’s vaccines currently in use have a damaging effect on the patient, even leading to brain inflammation. The new vaccine has no such drawbacks. It is administered by injecting into the skin. The skin cells then create a 3-molecule chain of beta-amyloid. Eventually, antibodies that fight off dementia are created. The vaccine has been named DNA Aβ42.
Meanwhile, Rudolph Tanzi, a scientist at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), claims that we can now determine a person’s chances of contracting Alzheimer’s in their old age by using biomarkers and brain imaging. This is similar to how doctors use cholesterol tests to determine a patient’s chances of heart disease. And just like people now take drugs to keep cholesterol buildup in check, Tanzi believes that we will soon have a drug that will control brain amyloid protein levels.
“Someday, once we have an effective and safe anti-amyloid drug, everyone will have their amyloid checked by 50 years old, let’s say, like they do with a colonoscopy. If you have a higher than normal amount, you can take a drug to prevent Alzheimer’s symptoms of dementia from occurring. By 2025, I think we’ll be there,” Tanzi said to Forbes.
According to estimates, nearly 5.7 million American citizens are believed to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. By 2050, the number is projected to double.
Gene editing solutions
A radical way to treat Alzheimer’s would be through gene editing technologies like CRISPR. Using the technology, scientists can cut and replace the DNA sequences they deem unnecessary. This essentially opens the door for a total eradication of diseases like Alzheimer’s and heart disease.
Inherited diseases like Huntington’s can easily be removed right from childhood. “Designer” babies can be created who are free from all kinds of illnesses, thereby resulting in the rise of a new generation of ultra-healthy human beings.
But despite such incredible opportunities, scientists are apprehensive about using the technology. The reason? It is virtually impossible to know what ripple effect changing a particular gene can have. Harmful effects could be spread over multiple generations. And once a genetic alteration is introduced, it is very difficult to undo it. So for now, we are better off not expecting gene-editing technologies to treat Alzheimer’s.