Curing Alzheimer’s disease
Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa with Dr. Roger Rosenberg.
It's a stealthy disorder: as we age, amyloids—a protein—accumulate in the brain's nerve cells. In a normally functioning brain, such buildups are routinely washed out of the cells. In the brain of a person who will ultimately present with Alzheimer’s disease, this cleansing doesn't occur. The amyloid accumulation remains, continues to build and creates a sticky plaque that hinders cell function. Eventually, the cells die.
It's a long, but painless process, said Roger N. Rosenberg, M.D., director of the National Institutes of Health-funded Alzheimer's Disease Center at The University of Texas at Southwestern Medical Center. As a result, 25 years may slip by before a patient realizes that something is amiss, he said. By that time, it’s too late: Alzheimer’s is impossible to treat. There is no cure for the disease.
Rosenberg, therefore, has focused his research efforts on prevention. He and his colleagues have found success in developing a gene-injection vaccine that would reduce protein plaque in the brain. Rosenberg presented his findings to Chancellor’s Council members on Friday, May 13, during the 46th Annual Chancellor's Council Meeting & Symposium.
The gene-injection vaccine is designed to help nerve cells in the brain "purge" themselves of the amyloid protein. The vaccine produces "an immune response" and creates antibodies to the amyloids, Rosenberg explained.
This gene-injection method is a follow-up to a traditional vaccine that proved to be toxic. Results from clinical trials showed that the earlier vaccine did produce amyloid antibodies, but side effects included significant brain swelling. Rosenberg and his colleagues, therefore, focused on developing a nontraditional DNA vaccine. Clinical trials for the DNA vaccine will be conducted as soon as the Food and Drug Administration grants approval.
Photo by Holly Reed