Alzheimer's Vaccine? Researchers Say it's Possible Within 5 Years

brain
One hemisphere of a healthy brain, left, is shown next to a hemisphere of a brain of a person suffering from Alzheimer's disease. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

This article originally appeared on Medical Daily.

A new study suggests that a vaccine for the incurable Alzheimer's disease could become a reality in as little as five years, and may one day become as much of a fixture in the lives of our aging population as the common flu shot.

The potential vaccine would address a protein buildup that occurs when two proteins, amyloid-beta (a-beta) and tau, die and create plaques that block connections between brain nerve cells, says the study from researchers at Flinders University in Adelaide Australia in partnership with a research team at the Institute of Molecular Medicine, and University of California, Irvine. Autopsies have shown that these plaques are always present in the brains of deceased Alzheimer’s patients, although Medical News Today reported that it is not clear if there are other underlying processes also contributing to the disease. 

"Essentially what we have designed is a vaccine that makes the immune system produce antibodies, and those antibodies act like tow trucks so they come to your driveway, they latch on to the breakdown protein or car and they pull it out of the driveway,” said Flinders University medicine professor Nikolai Petrovsky, ABC News reported.

In animal studies, the antibodies work best to block a-beta before the subjects have developed the disease. Interestingly, the antibodies are effective at reversing the buildup of tau proteins once the disease has already progressed. The vaccine is still not yet ready for human trials, but according to Petrovsky, “given the demand for a vaccine, if we show it is successful in the early stages we expect this will be pulled through and turned into product very, very quickly.”

Although there is no clear way to prevent the disease, recent research has suggested that eating blueberries may help to lower your risk. The research, conducted by a team from The University of Cincinnati, found that anthocyanins, a type of flavonoid that acts as an antioxidant within the fruit that gives the berry its rich color, help to prevent age-related damage at the cellular level within the plants and may do the same in humans. The researchers gave seniors with signs of mild cognitive impairments blueberry-rich diets and found the group demonstrated improved memory and improved access to words and concepts compared to the control group.

At the moment, the problem with the experimental Alzheimer’s vaccine is not making sure the vaccine works, but ensuring that it is strong enough to actually make a difference in a patient’s health. However, if this hurdle is addressed then the vaccine could be used as a preventative treatment in as little as five years and be given to people at around 50 years of age, The Australian reported.