Scientists at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation hope to launch human clinical trials in three to four years on an experimental vaccine for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease, the fatal, memory-robbing illness that affects 70,000 Oklahomans.
The vaccine is designed to stimulate the body's own immune system to fight dementia in the brain. Results of OMRF's vaccine research appeared in the Oct. 21 edition of The Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.
"These results are extremely exciting,'' said Jordan Tang, an OMRF researcher who led the laboratory study that resulted in the vaccine. "They certainly show that this vaccination approach warrants additional investigation as a therapy for Alzheimer's disease."
Tang and a team of scientists used laboratory mice to develop the vaccine.
Researchers selected mice that had been genetically engineered to develop symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, then immunized the animals with a milky enzyme known as memapsin 2.
Mice that received the vaccination showed a significant reduction in the build-up of protein plaques that, when in the brain for long periods of time, are believed to cause the cell death, memory loss and neurological problems characteristic of Alzheimer's disease.
The immunized mice also showed better perception performances than control mice that had not received the vaccine.
"What we saw is that the mice immunized with memapsin 2 developed 35 percent fewer plaques than their non vaccinated counterparts,'' Tang said. ``Those immunized mice also performed better than control mice in tests designed to assess their cognitive function.''
A vaccination approach getting the immune system to clean up the plaques has been considered a promising way to tackle the disease, but its success has been limited, Tang said.
In 2002, the pharmaceutical company, Elan, halted trials of a different vaccine after 15 patients suffered swelling of the central nervous system.
Dr. Stephen Prescott, OMRF president, said he is hopeful that Tang's work will avoid the pitfalls that beset Elan's vaccine.
"This vaccination stimulates the immune system more gently than previous Alzheimer's vaccines, so we are optimistic about its prospects going forward,'' he said.
The discovery was lauded by Mark Fried, regional director of the Central Oklahoma Alzheimer's Association.