Scientists have made a major breakthrough in the race to develop an effective vaccine against Alzheimer’s disease.
Researchers in the United States and Australia have created a formulation which targets the proteins that signal the disease.
A vaccine fit for the public could now be just years away, according to a scientist involved with the research.
Nikolai Petrovsky, professor of Flinders University School of Medicine, said: “If we are successful in pre-clinical trials, in three to five years we could be well on the way to one of the most important developments in recent medical history.”
He added that the number of cases of dementia globally is projected to rise rapidly as populations age and cases of type 2 diabetes, a major risk factor for the disease, skyrocket.
Petrovsky explained that Alzheimer’s is caused by the breakdown of proteins between neurons. Using the metaphor of cars blocking a driveway, he explained to ABC News:
“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.”
There were more than 48 million cases of dementia in 2015, making the illness one of the greatest burdens on health services around the world.
The World Health Organisation has predicted that dementia-related illnesses and care will cost societies more than $600 billion a year.
The issue has become so pressing that the US Congress has committed a further $350 million to the National Institutes of Health for research into the disease, taking funding in the US alone to more than $1.3 billion in 2016.
Anahit Ghochikyan, co-author of the paper and associate professor at the Institute for Mo Department of Molecular Immunology, said: “This study suggests that we can immunise patients at the early stages of AD, or even healthy people at risk for AD, using our anti-amyloid-beta vaccine, and, if the disease progresses, then vaccinate with another anti-tau vaccine to increase effectiveness.”
The research team, which is comprised of scientists from the Institute of Molecular Medicine, University of California and Flinders University, are now collaborating with experts from four pharmaceutical companies to conduct non-clinical safety-toxicology studies in order to fill US safety standards.
Human trials testing the immunogenicity and efficacy of the new vaccines will follow.