A vaccine that slows the progression of Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia has been developed by researchers at the University of Sydney's Brain and Mind Research Institute (BMRI).
The vaccine, which targets a protein known as tau, prevents the ongoing formation of neurofibrillary tangles in the brain of a mouse with Alzheimer's disease.
This progressive neurodegenerative disease affects more than 35 million people worldwide. The tau protein is also involved in front temporal dementia, the second most common form of dementia in people younger than 65 years.
The results of the study which led to the production of the vaccine have been published in the scientific journal PLoS ONE.
Lead author on the study, Associate Professor Lars Ittner, from the Alzheimer's and Parkinson's Disease Laboratory says:
'Our study is the first to show that a vaccine targeting the tau protein can be effective once the disease has already set in.
'The vaccine appears to have a preventative effect: slowing the development of further tangles, rather than clearing existing ones, but the exact mechanism involved is not yet understood," he said.
According to Associate Professor Ittner, scientists have been working on vaccines targeting the amyloid plaques seen in Alzheimer's for many years with a few currently in clinical trials.
'Most of the other vaccines targeting tau were tested only before or around the onset of the disease in animal models, but the vast majority of people with Alzheimer's disease are only diagnosed after the symptoms have appeared.
'We are already collaborating with the US pharmaceutical industry to develop this new vaccine for humans.
'Although we have a long way to go before the vaccine might be available for human use, these early results are very promising and a great reward for the countless hours spent in the lab by me and my team!"
Question: Can you talk about what this vaccine means for humans?
Professor Lars Ittner: That is a good question because at the moment I am working with mice. I think the vaccination could be one form of the therapy for the future generation in combination with other therapies because I don't think that one pill will cure the disease but a combination of treatments.
Question: How long will it be until we can see this vaccine being used, for humans?
Professor Lars Ittner: We have been testing the vaccine on mice for several years and we now need to modify this vaccine for humans, it may take another five years for the trials to begin in humans.
Question: How does this vaccine work?
Professor Lars Ittner: The vaccine works the same as a measles vaccination. We inject the tau protein, which is the protein that is involved in front temporal dementia, and then the immune system picks up this protein and creates antibodies to fight the protein.
Question: How long have you been developing and testing this vaccine?
Professor Lars Ittner: We did the first experiment three years ago.
Question: Will the vaccine only be used in those who already have Alzheimers?
Professor Lars Ittner: The vaccine has worked in both mice, those that are very young to prevent Alzheimers or old mice where the vaccine works to stop Alzheimers.
Question: What originally inspired you to begin studying the tau protein?
Professor Lars Ittner: The taut protein is a long standing interest in my laboratory, more in a mechanistic sense. The protein known as tau, prevents the ongoing formation of neurofibrillary tangles in the brain of a mouse with Alzheimer's disease.
Question: You've won numerous awards for your studies, how does it feel to receive awards?
Professor Lars Ittner: It is pleasing when you receive an award for your work. The work is sometimes very detail and not always understood by the public, so it is great when it is recognised.
Interview by Brooke Hunter