HMS Seeks Alzheimer’s Vaccine

Researchers link nose drops to prevenion of the disease in mice

Nose drops developed by Harvard Medical School researchers have impeded the development of Alzheimer’s disease in mice, and an anti-Alzheimer’s nasal spray for humans could be on the horizon.

While plaques made up of beta-amyloid proteins accumulate in the brains of Alzheimer’s sufferers, the new vaccine allows the immune system to produce antibodies that fight these proteins.

In tests that have are detailed in the latest issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, the vaccine significantly diminished plaques on the brains of treated mice.

Similar tests on human subjects began about six years ago, using a full aggregated strand of the protein. But this trial was cancelled in 2002 when 6 percent of the patients tested experienced brain inflammation.

Ultimately, researchers would like the new vaccine to be tested on humans, according to one of the study’s authors, Cynthia A. Lemere, who is an associate professor of neurology at the Medical School and an associate neuroscientist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in the Center for Neurologic Diseases.

“We would very much like to take one of our short-immunogen vaccines into human clinical trials,” Lemere said. “But we’re still working on refining it.”

On mice, the vaccine was administered in the form of nose drops, and it would likely appear in the form of a nose spray if it were to become widely available.

“That’s one of the things that distinguishes our vaccine from the others,” Lemere said. “Typically when you immunize through the nose, you get more of an anti-inflammatory response.”

“We’re working on a skin patch type of vaccine as well,” Lemere added.

While the spray would be “most effective at prevention,” Lemere said, one of the key features of the vaccine is that it “will probably also have very good effects at stopping the progression of the disease at early stages.”

There is some dispute, though, as to the effect that the vaccine will have on those who have been suffering from Alzheimer’s for a significant amount of time.

“It won’t have a good effect on reversing the disease once there is cell damage.” Lemere suggested. “But there are people in the field who do think that even in very demented people that there is a chance that they would show some improvement.”

The most likely people to receive the vaccines first would be those whose family members suffer from the disease.

“Those people would be very good candidates for a vaccine,” Lemere said. “They don’t really have a lot of alternatives—once they have that mutation, the probability of them getting Alzheimer’s disease is extremely high.”

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 4.5 million Americans currently suffer from the disease.

By age 85, the risk of developing Alzheimer’s is about 50 percent.