A small phase 1 study at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston looks at the “safety and tolerability” of a drug that researchers hope will eventually be shown to prevent and slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
If all goes well, the nasal spray may be approved as a vaccine for the neurodegenerative condition that affects millions of Americans. But the clinical process is slow in design and there is a long way to go – and many obstacles – ahead.
However, the new study is the first suggestion that a vaccine against Alzheimer’s might be possible. The trial is the culmination of nearly two decades of research by Dr. Howard L. Weiner, co-director of the hospital’s Ann Romney Center for Neurological Diseases, according to a press release from Brigham and Women’s.
The release explains that the new vaccine, like other vaccines before it, uses an immune modulator called Protollin to help speed up the immune response. Protollin, which is made from bacteria-derived proteins, is thought to “activate white blood cells found in the lymph nodes on the sides and back of the neck to migrate to the brain and trigger removal of beta-amyloid plaques,” the press release said. says.
Those plaques, which are sticky masses of protein, are a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. Many Alzheimer’s researchers believe they impede cellular communication in the brain.
“For 20 years, there is growing evidence that the immune system plays a key role in eliminating beta-amyloid,” said Dr. Tanuja Chitnis, a professor of neurology and lead researcher on the study. “Research in this area has paved the way for us to look for a whole new way to possibly treat not only (Alzheimer’s), but also other neurodegenerative diseases.”
The 16 clinical trial participants – who are between the ages of 60 and 85 and each have early, symptomatic Alzheimer’s but are otherwise in good overall health – will receive two doses of the nasal spray a week separately. In addition to looking at how well the spray is tolerated and whether there are health complications, the research team wants to measure what happens to white blood cells in response to the spray.
Plaques or implications?
For decades, researchers have been considering different factors that could lead to Alzheimer’s disease – and that could be ways to prevent or cure it. So far, nothing has been really discovered.
In addition to beta-amyloid plaques, appropriate implications are found in the brains of those with the disease. Researchers aren’t sure what has more of an impact – or how the plaques and implications might interact with each other in the disease.
In 2018, Nature reported that it may be time to “broaden the list of possible causes of the condition,” as drug trials that were designed to remove beta-amyloid failed to eradicate the disease.
“The amyloid hypothesis has never been universally accepted, and the failed drug trials have only encouraged its critics,” the article said, noting that its supporters are unwilling to give up hope.
The role of the appropriate implications was difficult to unfold, too.
Experts are convinced that genetics play a role in “influencing” whether one gets Alzheimer’s. But they also realize that people who have genes that increase the risk of Alzheimer’s may never develop noticeable symptoms of the disease. And some people without known genetic risk sometimes do.
Aging is still the biggest risk factor, according to Alzheimer’s experts. But they also realize that many people live very long lives and never develop dementia. Dementia is not considered a normal, inevitable part of aging.
In its roundup of apparent causes, Alzheimer’s News Today notes that some studies have found associations between air pollution and Alzheimer’s. And certain lifestyle choices, including smoking, alcohol consumption, being a sofa potato, isolation, poor nutrition and sleep disorders, can also contribute to the development of the disease.
Do it yourself
While researchers continue to look for medications that can prevent, slow down, or cure the disease, there is broad agreement that making lifestyle changes can improve the likelihood that you may be healthy in old age.
“Numerous studies have found that physical exercise plays a large role in healthy aging and is linked to better performance in terms of working memory and cognitive flexibility,” Alzheimer’s News Today reported.
In July 2020, the Deseret News reported that despite all the disagreements and lack of clear answers about the disease, experts do agree that exercise makes a difference. Experts recommend 150 minutes of exercise a week.
The article cited a study by the National Institute on Aging that followed 3,000 participants over a long period of time and said that healthy lifestyle behaviors create a “substantially lower risk” for Alzheimer’s.
“Dr. Klodian Dhana, an assistant professor at Rush University who led the study, said those who practiced two or three of the lifestyle choices had a 37% lower risk and those with four or all five had a 60% reduced risk of Alzheimer’s, compared to those with Alzheimer’s. none or one of the lifestyle factors, ”the Deseret News reported.
Clocking more steps each day has been linked to lower mortality for all causes.
“What’s good for the heart is good for the brain,” Dr. Norman Foster, a neurologist and professor at the University of Utah who specializes in Alzheimer’s research, told Deseret News. “There’s a lot of good, objective scientific evidence that supports these kinds of changes that also have a lot in common.”
While researchers and clinicians continue to seek cures, there is quite a lot that individuals can do to stay healthier and possibly even ward off the disease.
Among the advice of experts:
- Stay active. Walk long enough and fast enough to feel warm and pump your heart out. Do it often.
- Have stimulating conversations. Learn new things. Learning a new language is supposed to be especially good. Whatever you choose to learn, it should be challenging.
- Eat high-quality, nutritious foods. Multiple experts told the Deseret News that a Mediterranean DASH diet, which is mostly plant-based, is a good choice.
As Foster said, the most important thing is to start. Start somewhere, make it a habit and continue it.