Researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas said a new experimental Alzheimer's disease vaccine showed promising results during recent testing in rats and are hopeful the vaccine will lead to trial trials.
In the animal trials researchers said the experimental vaccine showed that it could delay the effects of the degenerative brain disease.
The journey from animal tests to human use is long and arduous, and many promising cures do not withstand it. But a senior author of the research published this week in the journal Alzheimer's Research & Therapy told USA Today if the vaccine is proven safe and effective during human trials it could reduce the total number of diagnostic dementia by half.
Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia, which is the broad term used to describe symptoms of cognitive decline that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior.
The experimental vaccine could be a monumental push forward in the fight against dementia, with previous Alzheimer's vaccines causing damaging side effects including brain inflammation. Recent tests on monkeys and rabbits found the vaccine works by prompting the body to produce antibodies that reduce the buildup of amyloid and tau. Both proteins are usually indicative of the degenerative brain disease's presence in the body.
Doris Lambracht-Washington, professor of neurology and neurotherapeutics at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, told USA Today she believes the vaccine may extend people's lives and stop the disease from spreading through the brain.
"If the onset of the disease could be delayed by even five years, that would be enormous for the patients and their families," Lambracht-Washington said. "The number of dementia cases could drop by half."
Two abnormal protein structures called plates and tangles can build up in the brain and disrupt nerve cells. The new vaccine may be able to stop such a build-up of these proteins without causing autoimmune inflammation, the researchers wrote.
According to the Alzheimer's Assocation, the disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. About 5.7 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's and researchers predict that number will rise to 14 million by 2050. Between 2000 and 2015, deaths related to Alzheimer's disease increased by 123 percent.
Update: This story was updated to be clearer that the experimental vaccine was only tested on animals and that there are many tests to see if it could work on humans and be released to the public.