Date: October 1st, 1999
Vaccine In Mice Study Proves Promising
This is not the case of the mouse that roared, but instead the one where the mouse stayed plaque-free.
Plaque is a big thing in the world of Alzheimer's research. Deposits known as amyloid plaques are found in the brain, but whether they cause the symptoms of the illness or simply signal the presence of the disease is unclear.
However, scientists recently developed and administered a new vaccine to mice with promising results. Seven of nine showed no detectable levels of amyloid plaque after one year. In addition, there was an average 99 percent reduction in plaques in 24 other mice.
Are the critters vanquishing mighty mice, vanguard troops in a final battle in the lab against a dread disease? Maybe. It is unclear whether the human immune system will react the same way, or whether the vaccine can be used safely in people.
Yet, an unmistakable whiff of hope emanates from the Bunsen burners at Elan Pharmaceuticals near San Francisco, where the vaccine was developed. "An exciting and encouraging study," is how Bill Theis, Ph.D., Vice President of Medical and Scientific Affairs at the Alzheimer's Association, describes the news of the vaccine. "It is a very rich time for Alzheimer's disease research," Dr. Thies adds, noting that developments like the vaccine "are capable of changing the course of research overnight."
Elan hopes to have the vaccine in phase I clinical trials by the end of this year. If it proves to be an antidote, a lot of people are going to be better off. Currently, an estimated 4 million Americans suffer with Alzheimer's at a cost to the national economy of $100 billion annually. Moreover, with the aging of the Baby Boom generation, their numbers could quadruple within fifty years.