Researchers at the University of California, Irvine, have been testing a promising vaccine designed to clear beta-amyloid plaques from the brain. In an article in Today at UCI, titled "Alzheimer's vaccine clears plaque but has little effect on learning and memory impairment," researchers say that what they've found is that the vaccine does what it was intended to do. That's the good news. However, they also found that clearing the plaque doesn't restore lost memory or learning abilities to Alzheimer's patients.
So, while this vaccine shows promise as part of treating Alzheimer's disease, even if it becomes widely used, it will be only part of the solution. Still, it's a step forward. We'd all love a magic bullet, but none is on the horizon just yet, so these bits and pieces we find in studies are heartening, even if only that it keeps us aware that research continues and there is hope that one day a way to prevent, or at least put into remission, this debilitating disease.
"We've found that reducing plaques is only part of the puzzle to treat Alzheimer's disease," said study leader, UC Irvine neurobiologist Elizabeth Head. "Vaccines such as this one are a good first step for effective Alzheimer's treatment, but complimentary treatments must be developed to address the complexity of the disease."
In a separate study, this one made public in a press release from OSA, researchers in Bedford, Mass. have "developed a way of examining brain tissue with near-infrared light to detect signs of Alzheimer's disease."
The story, titled "Researchers Use Light to Detect Alzheimer's: New Technique May Help Identify Ways to Predict and Prevent Deadly Disease," explains that:"The new technique ...can detect alterations to the optical properties of the brain that occur as the tissue undergoes microscopic changes due to Alzheimer's - sometimes far in advance of clinical symptoms."
Studies go on. Will these new findings help those who now suffer from Alzheimer's? Not likely.
What this flurry of research reminds me of is the years when I was growing up, and polio was at epidemic proportions. I knew a couple of people with polio. The iron lung was getting heavy press, as it was breathing for polio victims who couldn't breathe on their own.
I remember my parents being nearly hysterical when my brother had a stiff neck and couldn't touch his chin to his chest. Apparently, that was a polio test. It ended up fine. He just had a sore neck.
During that time, my third grade class was lined up and blood was drawn from our little arms, to use in experiments for polio vaccines. Why third graders were used, I've never known, but that's how it was. Not long after those needle ******, the Salk Vaccine was introduced and we were all given our "polio shots."
Did the research help those friends of mine who already had polio? No. In fact some of them are now suffering from what's called "post polio syndrome." One friend, who recovered from polio totally (they thought), is now back in a wheel chair from effects of the disease that has shown up decades after the fact.
But the research had to go on. And new generations have benefited from the results of those years of research.
It's heartbreaking that we can't yet cure those we love of Alzheimer's and other dementias. Sometimes it's hard to get excited about all the research and the pros and cons of each finding, when we know it won't affect our daily lives with our loved ones.
However, this is the way to prevention and cure for the next generation. Perhaps, if this research continues, our children won't have to worry about Alzheimer's disease. Perhaps their children's rounds of "baby shots" will include one to prevent Alzheimer's.
For now, we struggle to help Alzheimer's patients and their caregivers cope. There are medications that help some people put off facing the worst ravages of the disease. That's progress. But there's a long journey ahead, before we see the end.
All we can do is hope the funding remains to keep researchers working toward prevention and/or cure. It's brings hope that generations to come will not have to face down this enemy.
Published On: April 14, 2008