Albuquerque, N.M. – Researchers at the University of New Mexico believe they may have found a way to prevent Alzheimer's disease, according to KRQE-TV, an affiliate of CBS Albuquerque. Kiran Bhaskar, Associate Professor in the Department of Health and Sciences at UNM, who has been passionate about studying the disease in the last decade, says the search for a cure began with an idea in 2013.
"I would say it took about five years to get from where the idea was generated and get the vaccine working," he says.
Bhaskar and his team began testing the vaccine in mice.
"We used a group of mice that have Alzheimer's disease and injected them into a series of injections," says PhD student Nicole Maphis.
Maphis says the vaccine targets a specific protein known as tau, which is commonly found in the brains of Alzheimer's patients.
Maphis was pleased with the test results.
"These antibodies seem to have cleared (out) pathological tau. Pathological tau is one of the components of these tangles that we find in the brains of patients with Alzheimer's disease," she explains. The response lasted for months, according to UNM.
These long tangles "disrupt the ability of neurons to communicate with one another," the school notes, adding that tau is "normally a stabilizing structure within neurons."
The mice then received a series of labyrinth-like tests. The mice that received the vaccine performed much better than those who did not.
Despite this, Maphis and Bhaskar say that this is still not a complete success. Being able to take the vaccine to people will not only take a few more years, but it could cost up to $ 1 billion.
"We have to make sure we have a clinical version of the vaccine so we can test on people," says Bhaskar.
Testing only a small group would cost $ 2 million to the UNM Department of Health Sciences. At the moment, Maphis and Bhaskar are looking for partnerships to help them in a clinical grade vaccine.
Once they develop a vaccine that is safe for humans, they will have to submit it to the FDA for approval. This may take another five years.
Alzheimer's disease affects nearly a third of the elderly and is "on the rise, currently affecting 43 million people worldwide," UNM notes.