“We want to try and use the vaccine early on in the development of the illness,” says Lars Lannfelt, Professor of Geriatrics at the Academic Hospital in Uppsala, “in the hope that we can stop the illness from developing fully.”
Lannfelt and his research team have been making key discoveries in the Alzheimer’s field. Five years ago they identified two human mutations that affect the level of amyloid peptide in the brain. Individuals that have inherited these mutations develop early onset Alzheimer’s disease, providing strong evidence that amyloid peptide contributes to the development of the disease.
Speaking to Dagens Nyheter Professor Lannfelt said: “we believe that it is actually these poisonous pre-stages that ultimately result in the illness. The brain is actually trying to protect itself by making these deposits”.
The antibodies that make up the vaccine were discovered thanks to a breakthrough five years ago, when Lannfelt and his research team at the Karolinska Institute discovered a specific genetic mutation in the gene that controls the production of beta amyloid, a protein that builds up in the brains of persons with Alzheimer’s disease, collecting in clumps called senile plaques.
Once the deposits have begun to develop in the brain, chronic inflammation kills off the nerve cells and makes the brain shrink. This mutation is known as the ‘Arctic mutation’ because it was found in an abnormally high number of Alzheimer’s patients in the far north of Sweden.
The antibodies will now be tested on mice. “We are the first research group in the world to have developed a vaccine with this approach”, says Lannfelt. It will take about a year following results from animal testing to develop a vaccine that can be tested on humans.