Can We Vaccinate Against Dementia?

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A vaccine targeting two culprits in Alzheimer's, beta amyloid and tau, may be tested within the next 3 years

Two proteins are linked to Alzheimer's and dementia: beta amyloid and tau. Beta amyloid largely forms plaques outside of cells, and tau forms toxic intracellular bundles. Exactly what set off each process isn't especially clear, but there is some suggestions that removing beta amyloid prior to Alzheimer's development may be protective, and removing tau once the disease has already formed may reverse aspects of the disease too.

Could a vaccine targeting both effectively prevent dementia? 

No one knows. but a mixed team of scientists have been working on one; publishing a new study in Nature Scientific Reports. Considering there were more than 48 million cases of Alzheimer's in 2015 alone, with a forecast financial burden of hundreds of billions of dollars in the coming decades, preventing and treating dementia is an international priority. In the US alone, $1.3 billion was allocated to dementia research in 2016. 

"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"

 

How effective could it be? 

This is the million dollar question. While there is some experimental evidence that alleviating tau can even reverse elements of the disease, and blocking beta amyloid can stave off disease development, there are still many conflicting theories when it comes to Alzheimer's in particular. One remaining question is whether beta amyloid itself helps to protect against infection and pathogens in the brain, and whether removing it could have unforeseen consequences. 

"Given the demand for a vaccine, if we show it is successful in the early stages we expect this will be pulled through and turned into product very, very quickly"

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