Emory Report
February 25, 2008
Volume 60, Number 21

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February 25, 2008
Tests start on vaccine to slow Alzheimer’s

By Quinn Eastman

Doctors at Emory’s Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center have begun testing a vaccine they think could slow or even reverse the devastating condition.

The vaccine is designed to harness patients’ immune systems to clear away amyloid plaques, accumulations of one of the body’s own proteins that are characteristic of Alzheimer’s.

“This is an exciting time for those who treat and care for people with Alzheimer’s,” said chief investigator Allan Levey, chairman of the department of neurology. “It may be possible to change the course of the disease, rather than simply treat its symptoms.”

The Phase I clinical trial, involving several medical centers, incorporates lessons learned from an earlier trial that was halted in 2002 because some participants developed brain inflammation.

Vaccines against the amyloid protein have been shown to protect mice engineered to develop an Alzheimer’s-like disease. Limited evidence from the halted trial suggests antibodies against amyloid help remove plaques from the human brain, Levey said.

The new vaccine, developed by the pharmaceutical firm Merck, uses a smaller piece of the amyloid protein and is expected to stimulate antibody production but avoid inflammation. Emory doctors say they also plan to test pre-made antibodies, a related approach.