Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Vaccinating Against Alzheimer's: Is it Worth a Shot?

One of the most frequent questions we're asked at conferences is when will there be a cure for Alzheimer's Disease.

At present none exists, and recent drug trials have proven unsuccessful. But those same drugs are now being reintroduced in new clinical trials and much earlier in the lifecycle of the disease, which can reside in the brain and remove memories over decades.

Medical experts now recognize three stages of Alzheimer's, the first of which is impossible to detect without a brain scan. Alzheimer's is distinctive from other forms of dementia in how plaques and tangles form within the brain and eventually cause portions of the brain to whither and a person's physical and mental health to deteriorate until they can no longer do even the most basic functions.

The second stage of Alzheimer's, sometimes referred to as MCI, is where symptoms start to show but are mild. Those with MCI start to recognize memory gaps, such as misplacing items and finding only blank space when retracing their actions earlier in the day. But given how many distractions there are in modern life, especially for those who work and live alongside technologies that do a lot of "thinking" for us, it is easy to become convinced the memory lapses are something else.

But eventually the symptoms become more obvious -- often to other people and, on average, eight years after they first appear -- and Alzheimer's starts entering the third and final stage. This phase can last from a few years to 20 or more. It is also the stage most people are familiar with and the one drug companies initially tested on people.

Now, more is being wriiten about a vaccine to "innoculate" people in their 20s and 30s and maybe 40s and 50s, when the risks are still low and the plaques and tangles have are absent in the brain. If enough adults are vaccinated, eventually Alzheimer's could be eradicated much like polio once was. But if that approach is to take hold, a lot of time and money must go into educating people on the rewards vs. the risks. It's going to be a hard sell, for sure. But with such a vaccine already in the mid-stages of development, its introduction is not far away.

More Reading: New Alzheimer's Drug Studies Offer Hope

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