Brain diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, my father suffered from the latter, can take away a loved one even while they live. The person you know just ceases to exist except as a physical shell.
In looking at ex-rays of my father’s brain just before he died, there were large swathes of his brain that doctors said were dead or non-functioning. I remember wondering how in the world he still managed to function.
Medicines up until now have focused on treating the symptoms of these diseases, not on reversing or improving function of the brain.
Now comes some promising new research that suggests a vaccine can actually halt Alzheimer’s development. For a lot of families, halting the development is almost like a cure.
What scientists have developed is a vaccine that targets tau proteins in the brain. Tau proteins form tangles in the brain that cut-off nutrients and cause the brain to die resulting in memory loss in Alzheimer’s patients. If the vaccine can target the Tau tangles and eliminate them, then the disease’s progression can be slowed or even possibly eliminated.
Clinical trials are currently under way in England. The Research Institute for the Care of Older People (RICE), based at the Royal United Hospital in Bath, Somerset, are testing the new treatment, and they are looking for more volunteers.
Another vaccine in development by RICE researchers targets protein deposits called amyloid plaques in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.
Plaques are not as strongly linked to memory problems as tangles, and the new amyloid vaccine is only effective in patients in the very first stages of Alzheimer’s development.
It is hoped that further study will prove that the tau vaccine will work in patients in more advanced stages of the disease.
Dr. James Pickett, the head of Research at the Alzheimer’s Society warns that despite these successes, it would be years before the vaccine could be used as standard treatment.
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