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A new clinical trial is underway to look at a potential vaccine that targets tau protein in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s disease is characterised by the build-up of two hallmark proteins called amyloid and tau in the brain. These proteins are thought to kick-start a chain of events that damages nerve cells, leading to symptoms such as confusion, memory loss, behaviour change and communication problems.
Current treatments for Alzheimer’s disease focus on improving the symptoms, yet few are able to slow the progression of the condition.
Dr James Pickett, head of research at Alzheimer’s Society said: “So far, most clinical trials have focused on amyloid protein, which can be responsible for brain cell death and some Alzheimer’s disease symptoms, but this potential drug is targeted at tau protein tangles, that may be linked with memory loss.
“The researchers are hoping that this could possibly be used as a vaccine, causing the body’s immune system to attack the tau tangles. Although researchers are now looking at whether the vaccine is safe for people to use, it will be several years until we know if it will be able to improve the lives of people with Alzheimer’s disease.
“With an ageing population and no new dementia drugs in over a decade, the need to find new treatments is more urgent than ever. We need more people to come forward to get involved with scientific studies. Join Dementia Research is an NHS service that allows people to register their interest and find suitable research they can take part in.”
The trial, which will be carried out at the Research Institute for the Care of Older People (RICE), is intended to advance the knowledge and treatment of serious conditions affecting older people (in particular Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia) to improve their quality of life.
Scientists at RICE are hoping that a new drug will act as a vaccine; targeting tau tangles in the brain to prevent their build-up and potentially remove them altogether.
The clinical trial will look at whether the drug is safe for people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease to use. Researchers hope that it could potentially slow or halt the progression of the condition, which currently affects over 850,000 people in the UK.
Commenting on the importance of the study, Professor Jones, director of RICE added: “This study opens the way to a completely different and hopefully much more effective treatment initially for people with Alzheimer's disease, but possibly in the future for some other types of dementia as well.”