New Hope: Ground-Breaking Research on Possible Alzheimer’s Vaccine and Potential Cognitive Restoration

Researchers testing within a laboratory

At Georgia Memory Net, we believe on helping patients and their families today. That’s why our core services are focused on treatments, services and support that’s available right now to help those affected by Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. But we also believe in looking ahead, by evaluating research that could point to a future where conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Lewy Body Syndrome and Frontotemporal Dementia can be prevented, or possibly even have some of the damaging effects of these conditions reversed.

We stress that at this point, the following research is only preliminary. There is still no proven treatment to reverse or prevent Alzheimer’s and other dementias. But some recent developments give us cause for hope, including:

Alzheimer’s Vaccine Research

Research into creating a vaccine against Alzheimer’s has been underway for some time. Many have focused on the accumulation of beta amyloid in the brain that can form fibrils and plaques that cause neurons to degenerate and disrupt neural networks. If an effective anti-amyloid vaccine could be produced, it could be given before Alzheimer’s disease has manifested in a patient.

But there’s a problem.

Other attempts at a vaccine have resulted in dangerous side effects. A vaccine known as AN-1792 from Johnson & Johnson was put into clinical trials in the 2000s, but in a small percentage of cases brain inflammation was resulted, causing the vaccine to be abandoned.

That’s what makes this new development cautiously promising. A vaccine, known as UB-311, has early results that do not show an immune response leading to inflammation. Even better, it stimulated anti-amyloid antibodies in 96% of patients. PET scans of patients receiving the vaccine also showed improvement on amyloid deposits in the brain. There were also recorded improvements in measurements of Alzheimer’s symptoms using scales such as the Alzheimer’s Disease Assessment Scale-Cog (ADAS-Cog) and Mini Mental State Examination (MMSE).

It’s still much too early to draw any firm conclusions—only 42 patients participated in this initial study. And this evidence is not strong enough to say that this vaccine can improve memory and cognition in Alzheimer’s patients. But the initial results indicate that this vaccine is headed to the next round of testing and it has been reported that subjects from the current research will move into a long-term extension study and will be offered continued treatment with UB-311. While this latest study could end up failing to deliver a positive impact for patients after additional scrutiny, the results yielded to date are encouraging.

Restoring Memory Function

First, we immediately want to state that this effort is still in the pre-clinical phases, which means the results to date have yet to be validated on actual Alzheimer’s patients. But this study, led by scientists at the University of Buffalo, is breaking new ground in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease.

The study focuses on gene changes caused by influences other than DNA sequences. Known as epigenetics, these changes can come from both genetic and environmental factors. In the case of Alzheimer’s disease, we do not know how these changes happen.

But the researchers were able to determine that epigenetics are responsible for a process that’s called repressive histone modification, and that this process is elevated in patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. According to one of the senior authors of the study, histone modifiers change the structure of chromatin, which controls how genetic material gains access to a cell’s transcriptional machinery. Histone modifiers also result in a loss of glutamate receptors, which leads to loss of synaptic function, restrictions in learning ability and memory deficits. The epigenetic changes in Alzheimer’s disease tend to happen is the later stages of the disease process and can result in the most dramatic cognitive decline.

According to the results from the study, researchers were able to reverse cognitive dysfunction by targeting the epigenetic enzymes to restore glutamate receptors. Study animals were injected three times with compounds designed to inhibit the enzyme that controls repressive histone modification. The result was recovery of glutamate receptors and improvement in cognitive areas such as recognition memory, spatial memory and working memory.

But these results only lasted for one week. The study authors stated that future studies will be needed to focus on developing compounds that penetrate the brain more effectively and increase the longevity of the effects. In the meantime, Georgia Memory Net will continue to provide essential assistance to patients and families here and now. It’s critically important that in the pursuit of an Alzheimer’s vaccine, or even a cure, that we do not lose sight of the critical help and support that’s needed today. But in the not-so-distant future, we hope that treatment will be developed to eradicate the debilitating effects that Alzheimer’s and other dementias has on our community and around the world.

Georgia Memory Net at a Glance

What is Georgia Memory Net and why does it exist? There’s so much information about Alzheimer’s and related dementias in Georgia, and how to diagnose and treat them, that it can become overwhelming. We’ve done our best to simplify the info into a clear one-page infographic.

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