‘The breakthrough of the next decade’: Dementia vaccine set to start human trials

Adelaide 5000

A dementia vaccine — which is the brainchild of a South Australian academic — is on the cusp of starting human trials, with researchers hopeful it will be the “breakthrough of the next decade”.

Key points:

  • Professor Nikolai Petrovsky hopes human trials will start within the next two years
  • The vaccine is designed to be both preventative and therapeutic
  • Research is being led by the University of California and Institute for Molecular Medicine

Flinders University Professor Nikolai Petrovsky said the team of researchers had completed successful testing on mice, which had been “genetically programmed to get dementia and Alzheimer’s disease”.

“We were able to prevent the memory loss in the mice and obviously the next step is to take this into human clinical trials,” he told ABC Radio Adelaide.

He has been working on the vaccine for two decades, and said he hoped human trials would start in the next 18 to 24 months.

“It’s an exciting time to be starting the new decade — hopefully this is the breakthrough of the next decade if we can get it to work in the human trials,” he said.

“It’s an exciting juncture.”

The vaccine was developed by Professor Petrovsky but research is being led and funded by the Institute for Molecular Medicine and University of California, in the US.

“Currently, we believe Alzheimer’s disease is caused by a build-up of abnormal clumps of protein in the brain,” Professor Petrovsky said.

“It’s like they gum up the system, a bit like when your pipes get blocked and they don’t work so well.


The research project has looked into access to home or long-term care for older Australians. (AAP: Glenn Hunt)

“The same thing happens in the brain with Alzheimer’s, you get these build-ups of clumps of protein between the brain cells and they start to interfere with the communication between the brain cells.

“With the vaccine, what we’re doing is getting the immune system to make antibodies that can recognise those abnormal clumps of protein and will actually pull them out of the system and break them down.

“It’ll unblock the pipes and let the brain go back to normal.”

He said “we don’t have the full story” about why those abnormal clumps of protein form in the brain and further research was needed to answer that question.

“We still don’t fully understand the basis of why some people get it and other people are fortunate and don’t,” he said.

Vaccine is designed to prevent and treat dementia

Professor Petrovsky said the vaccine was designed to both be a preventative measure and a cure.

“In the animal models, we can both use it to prevent the development of memory loss by giving it before the animal starts to get these build-ups of proteins,” he said.

“But we can also show that even when we give it after the animals have proteins, we can actually get rid of the abnormal proteins.

“It’s actually designed to be both a prophylactic and a therapeutic.”

Professor Petrovsky said he hoped some of the trials would take place in Australia, but the research was being funded by the US Government so trials would also take place there.

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“Australia is a very attractive place to do human trials and a lot of US companies now do their trials in Australia,” he said.

“We’re certainly lobbying to make sure we get some of the trials, as well as the US.”

In February, the first set of hearings during the Aged Care Royal Commission in Adelaide revealed dementia was set to become the biggest cause of death for people aged over 85.

The commission heard that the condition — which does not have a cure and cannot be treated — would affect every Australian, directly or indirectly, and create new challenges in the community.

Dementia Australia chief executive Maree McCabe told the commission there were about 436,000 Australians living with dementia today.

She said by 2050, that number would surge to 1.1 million.

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news

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