In Southern Australia researchers are developing a potential vaccine for Alzheimer’s disease that is currently being tested on mice. The vaccine would remove beta-amyloid plaques and tau proteins that accumulate and rob the brain of memory and cognitive function. Human clinical trials are still at least two years away, if progress on mice continues to show promise.
If a vaccine is developed, it would be given to young people, suggests Baylor College of Medicine neurologist and Director of the Alzheimer’s Disease and Memory Center Dr. Joseph Kass. “We know the disease might be starting up to 20 years before we have the first symptoms of memory loss, so how do you give treatment that is going to prevent that memory loss from even starting?” You start young.
Dr. Kass says the federal government has come to recognize the magnitude of the threat to public health and has made significant increases in funding for research and treatments. Between now and 2050, Alzheimer’s disease is projected to cost the United States $20.2 trillion, two-thirds of which will be paid by Medicare and Medicaid. Last year, the National Institutes of Health spent $2.3 billion on research alone.
Just ten years ago cancer was a formidable and mostly incurable disease. In a short period of time medical science has made dramatic leaps in immunotherapy, chemotherapy, cryoblation and other treatments. In years to come, it is hoped that Alzheimer’s will similarly give way to cures. “As we unravel that mystery that is the brain, and we learn more about the diseases and we get a better idea of the biology underlying them, I think in the next few decades we could be where cancer is now,” suggests Dr. Kass. He says what keeps him optimistic is watching the amount of knowledge that grows every year in what is an exceptionally complex disease, and that even in failures scientists are finding new directions for answers to this arduous challenge.