By Jessica Firger
What if there were a vaccine that could halt the progression of Alzheimer's-related dementia? Researchers at Université Laval, CHU de Québec say they may be close to developing a prophylactic treatment that could potentially stimulate the brain's natural defense against Alzheimer's disease.
Their study, partially funded by the pharmaceutical firm GlaxoSmithKline, was published in the early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It is one of several the group of researchers have conducted to explore this innovative approach to combating Alzheimer's disease.
The vaccine works by stimulating the activity of microglial cells, the body's natural nervous system defenders, which are able to attack and prevent the proliferation of amyloid beta, the toxic plaque molecules that form in the brain and largely are responsible for the progression of Alzheimer's.
The researchers used mice with Alzheimer's disease to test the potential vaccine. Over a period of 12 weeks, the rodents were given weekly injections.Throughout the treatments, the scientists assessed their memory and cognitive abilities by observing whether the rodents were able to navigate through a water maze, one of the most widely used tests in the field of neuroscience. The mice that received the vaccine, and not the placebo, improved over time and were able to reach the other end of the maze.
"It's very similar to what you see in patients," says Serge Rivest, MD, PhD, professor at Université Laval's Faculty of Medicine, a researcher at the CHU de Québec research center, and the lead author of the study. "In patients, you do have some problems when you put them in an environment they're not familiar with."
If further studies bears out the mice study results, the researchers believe the vaccine could potentially be effective to both stop the progression of Alzheimer's disease and prevent it. Rivest speculates that such a vaccine may be most useful for individuals who are at risk for developing Alzheimer's. He says the type of biomarkers his vaccine targets can also be measured in the blood and accurately predict Alzheimer's risk.
One in eight Americans over the age of 65 has Alzheimer's disease, which is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Alzheimer's Association. Symptoms include memory loss, inability to recognize people or objects, and difficulty with motor skills and speech.
For years, scientists have worked to develop ways to slow the progression of the Alzheimer's. Cholinesterase inhibitors, the current class of drugs on the market, stop the breakdown of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that is believed to be important for cognition and memory. Drugs in this class include Aricept, Exelon, and Razadyne.
Rivest says other vaccines in research stage have been ineffective, and one was found to cause inflammation of the brain. The vaccine he and his team are developing activates immune cells, rather than targeting the proteins that cause dementia, which is how some Alzheimer's medications or vaccines work, he says.
"Alzheimer's Vaccine Shows Promise" originally appeared on Everyday Health.
Also on HuffPost:
Daily Chores And Exercise
A recent study in the <a href="http://www.neurology.org/content/early/2012/04/18/WNL.0b013e3182535f0e.extract" target="_hplink">journal <em>Neurology</em></a> showed that simple activities like <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/20/chores-alzheimers-exercise-_n_1440969.html" target="_hplink">cooking, cleaning and washing the dishes</a> -- as well as good, old-fashioned exercise -- is associated with a decreased Alzheimer's disease risk, even among people who are age 80 and older. <br> <br> Researchers found that the people who were the least active each day -- in the bottom 10th percentile in the study -- were two times more likely to go on to develop Alzheimer's disease, compared with people who were in the top 10th percentile for daily activity. <br> <br> The results were even more marked when evaluating the intensity of physical activity: Those who were in the bottom 10th percentile for physical activity intensity were three times more likely to develop Alzheimer's, compared with those in the top 10th percentile.
Speak Two Languages
Being bilingual could strengthen your brainpower and protect against dementia, according to a recent study published in the <a href="http://www.cell.com/trends/cognitive-sciences/" target="_hplink">journal <em>Trends in Cognitive Sciences</em></a>. <br> <br> HuffPost Canada Living <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/02/benefits-of-being-bilingual_n_1396671.html" target="_hplink">explains why</a>: <br> <br> <blockquote>The anticipation of having to speak one of two language at any given time forces the brain to run continually, and results in an experience that helps avoid a mental conflict between languages.</blockquote> <br> <br> "It is rather like a reserve tank in a car. When you run out of fuel, you can keep going for longer because there is a bit more in the safety tank," study researcher Dr. Ellen Bialystok <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2011/feb/18/bilingual-alzheimers-brain-power-multitasking" target="_hplink">told <em>The Guardian</em></a>.
Research in flies suggests that the main compound in turmeric, called curcumin, could have powers against Alzheimer's. <br> <br> <em>The Telegraph</em> reported on a study in the journal <em>PLoS ONE</em>, which suggested that <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/9084973/Having-a-curry-could-help-ward-off-dementia.html" target="_hplink">curcumin may work</a> by reducing the amount of oligomers, which are the "precursor" forms of amyloid plaques in the brain. <br> <br> A previous study in the journal <em>Annals of Indian Academy of Neurology</em> discussed the possible <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2781139/" target="_hplink">effects of curcumin on Alzheimer's</a>. Researchers wrote: <br> <br> <blockquote>Due to various effects of curcumin, such as decreased Beta-amyloid plaques, delayed degradation of neurons, metal-chelation, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and decreased microglia formation, the overall memory in patients with AD has improved.</blockquote>
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2011/12/01/puzzles-and-exercise-help-beat-dementia-symptoms_n_1122502.html" target="_hplink">Doing some puzzles</a> and playing games every day could ward off mental decline, according to a recent study in the journal <em>BMC Medicine</em>. <br> <br> Researchers from the University of Erlangen conducted a study in dementia patients in nursing homes, and had the study participants do exercises like bowling and solving puzzles together, the Press Association reported. They also spent some time doing things like woodwork and gardening. <br> <br> The researchers found that all of these activities seemed to have the same effect on the study participants' <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2011/12/01/puzzles-and-exercise-help-beat-dementia-symptoms_n_1122502.html" target="_hplink">brain functioning</a>, compared with the typical dementia medication, the Press Association reported. <br> <br> Another recent study in the journal <em>Archives of Neurology</em> showed that life-long reading and game-playing could <a href="http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=153901" target="_hplink">decrease beta amyloid levels</a> in the brain, which are considered a "hallmark of the condition," MedicineNet reported. <br> <br> "Staying cognitively active over the lifetime may reduce the risk of Alzheimer's by preventing the accumulation of Alzheimer's-related pathology," study researcher Susan Landau, a research scientist at the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute at the University of California, Berkeley, <a href="http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=153901" target="_hplink">told MedicineNet</a>.
Elderly people who <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-11537068" target="_hplink">walk six to nine miles a week</a> could decrease their risk of dementia and brain functioning problems, BBC News reported. <br> <br> The 2009 study in <em>Neurology</em> included 299 people whose average age was 78. Researchers found that people who walked the most in the study -- six to nine miles a week -- had a halved risk of developing the brain problems as people who walked the least in the study, according to BBC News. <br> <br> Similarly, a 2007 study that also appeared in the journal <em>Neurology</em> showed that people age 65 and older who regularly exercise have a <a href="http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2007-12/aaon-wam121107.php" target="_hplink">decreased risk of vascular dementia</a>. That study included 749 people.
Eat Your Fish And Nuts
Researchers from Columbia University Medical Center found that eating a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/06/omega-3-fatty-acids-alzheimers-memory-brain_n_1475806.html" target="_hplink">diet high in omega-3 fatty acids</a> -- such as fish, nuts and chicken -- is linked with lower levels of of beta-amyloid protein, which is linked with Alzheimer's disease. <br> <br> The study, published in the journal Neurology, included 1,219 people age 65 and older who didn't have dementia. The researchers found that the higher their consumption of the omega-3 fatty acids, the lower the beta-amyloid in the blood.
Drink Green Tea
That refreshing green brew could have powers against Alzheimer's disease, according to research from Newcastle University. <br> <br> WebMD reported that when <a href="http://www.webmd.com/alzheimers/news/20110106/green-tea-may-help-prevent-alzheimers-disease" target="_hplink">green tea is digested</a>, the released compounds have protective effects against Alzheimer's. <br> <br> "When green tea is digested by enzymes in the gut, the resulting chemicals are actually more effective against key triggers of Alzheimer's development than the undigested form of the tea," study researcher Ed Okello <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/jan/06/green-tea-alzheimers-cancer" target="_hplink">told <em>The Guardian</em></a>.
Find out if there are any quick and easy brain training exercises you can do in order to prevent dementia.