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Tuesday, 11 July, 2000, 11:49 GMT 12:49 UK
Alzheimer's vaccine 'safe to use'
Alzheimer's is linked to changes to brain structure
Trials of a vaccine against the brain disorder Alzheimer's disease have produced highly encouraging results.

Preliminary tests have shown that the vaccine is safe and can be well tolerated by humans.

However, it will be at least two years before it is known whether the vaccine can actually help people with Alzheimer's.

About 100 patients both in the USA and the UK are involved in the phase one trials of the vaccine, AN-1792.

These results should give renewed hope to people with Alzheimer's disease and their carers

Dr Richard Harvey, Alzheimer's Society

Initial findings from the US trial were reported on Tuesday at the World Alzheimer Congress 2000 meeting in Washington DC.

The purpose of phase one trials is simply to show whether a drug is safe, not how effective it is.

No safety problems were identified after US patients received a single injection of the vaccine, the researchers said.

They are still awaiting the results of multi-dose trials in the UK.

Dr Dale Schenk, vice president of discovery research at Elan Pharmaceuticals, which developed the vaccine, said: "We are extremely pleased with the progress of our phase one trials which have shown that AN-1792 is well tolerated by the patients.

"During the course of our research, we also developed a greater understanding of how the vaccine works to clear amyloid plaques out of the brain and prevent additional plaques from forming."

Brain plaques

Amyloid plaques, protein deposits which impede and kill nerves in the brain, are a hallmark of Alzheimer's disease, although scientists do not know if they are a cause or a result of the illness.

The vaccine is a synthetic form of naturally occurring beta amyloid protein, the main component of the plaques.

Scientists found that when injected into mice, the compound prompted an immune response which increased the clearance of amyloid plaques.

We are optimistic that eventually help the millions of people and families world-wide who are living with this devastating disease

Dr Dale Schenk, Elan Pharmaceuticals

Antibodies were formed which bound themselves to the plaques and allowed them to be engulfed by other immune system defenders called microglial cells.

Dr Schenk said: "Amyloid plaques act as a brain invader. We are optimistic that we can attack this invader at its source and eventually help the millions of people and families world-wide who are living with this devastating disease."

UK response

Dr Richard Harvey, Director of Research, Alzheimer's Society, said the results of the trial were exciting news.

"This study has looked at the safety effects of a single dose of the vaccine, and has shown that the dose caused no side effects.

"The next stage of the work is to give people several doses of the vaccine, and to see whether humans develop the antibody response that will be the potential therapeutic action of the vaccine.

"Once it is known that both giving the vaccine is safe, and that the vaccine results in an immune response then it will be possible to see whether the vaccine actually has any effect on Alzheimer's disease in humans.

"These results should give renewed hope to people with Alzheimer's disease and their carers, although we are still several years away from knowing whether or not this will actually be an effective treatment."

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See also:

04 Jul 00 | Health
Smell test to diagnose dementia
03 Jul 00 | Health
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20 Jun 00 | Health
'First real test' for Alzheimer's
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