Researchers at Adelaide’s Flinders University have made a breakthrough in the prevention of Alzheimer’s and dementia, which could mean a vaccine is produced within three years.
Working with researchers from the Institute of Molecular Medicine and the University of California, the team at Flinders University have solved how dementia develops in the brain and have created a treatment that not only prevents the onset of dementia, but also reverses the early stages of the disease.
Explaining the process on radio, Flinders University Professor Nikolai Petrovsky told listeners that over time, two proteins in the brain break down and cause the condition.
“[The proteins are] a bit like the car in your driveway,” he told 891ABC. “Essentially what we have designed is a vaccine that makes the immune system produce antibodies and those antibodies act like tow trucks so they come to your driveway, they latch on to the breakdown protein or car and they pull it out of the driveway.”
Professor Petrovsky said the first protein “to go wrong” was a-beta.
“So by developing a vaccine against a-beta it seems to work in the animals best if you give it before they get Alzheimer’s or dementia and it doesn’t work so well once they have developed the disease,” he said. “Interestingly the second protein [tau], which has been found more recently, which we are targeting … it turns out if you target tau with the vaccine you can actually reverse the disease even once it has developed.”
There are currently more than 353,000 Australians living with dementia and, without any kind of medical breakthrough, this number is expected to rise to 900,000 by 2050.
With the help of a significant commitment of funding from the US Government, human testing of the vaccine is expected to take place within the next two to three years.