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Alzheimer's Disease Health Center

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A Vaccine for Alzheimer's?

Researchers May Be Getting Closer to Vaccine for Brain Disorder

WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

July 19, 2006 -- After the widely publicized failure of a potential vaccine for Alzheimer's diseaseAlzheimer's disease in 2002, new hope may be on the horizon.

According to research presented Wednesday at the 10th International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease and Related Disorders in Madrid, Spain, researchers are already making great strides in developing a vaccine for this progressive brain disorder.

Affecting about 4.5 million Americans, Alzheimer's disease gradually destroys a person's memory and ability to learn, reason, make judgments, communicate, and carry out daily activities, according to the Alzheimer's Association.

Alzheimer's disease is a result of damage to nerve cells in the brain. Plaques of a protein called beta amyloid contribute to the damage and death of brain cells. The antibody therapy tested in this study targeted beta-amyloid protein and amyloid plaques.

The older trial was halted in 2002 when 6% of participants developed a dangerous brain inflammation called encephalitisencephalitis; some also developed brain shrinkage. But two new approaches toward vaccines seem to avoid such problems, explains John C. Morris, MD, director of the Alzheimer's Disease Research Center of Washington University in St. Louis.

Passive immunization

One promising approach is known as passive immunization. In a nutshell, a vaccine helps your body create antibodies to fight off disease. An active vaccine marshals the body's own disease- fighting mechanism to attack the disease. By contrast, a passive immunization strategy is based on treating patients with antibodies that are manufactured.

"This is a different way to grow antibodies," Morris explains. "We grow them in test tubes and give them to patients so the patient can then launch an immune response, but since the body is not generating the antibodies on its own, they will not overstimulate their immune system."

Latest Studies

Currently there are two trials in different stages looking at this approach, Morris says.

In one new study presented here, researchers including Eric Seimers, MD, from Eli Lilly and Company of Indianapolis, gave 19 people with Alzheimer's diseaseAlzheimer's disease an intravenous (IV) infusion of one of four doses of antibodies over a half hour. Side effects were similar across all dosage groups, but in the highest-dose group, people reported mild shaking and dizzinessdizziness that lasted less than two hours after the infusion.

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