What Seniors Want to Know About the New Alzheimer's Vaccine

There’s much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving in the world of health. In addition to the Covid-19 vaccine and booster shot making Thanksgiving gatherings safer, a potential new Alzheimer’s disease vaccine will begin testing soon. The novel coronavirus has held our focus for the last two years, but the many illnesses and diseases like Alzheimer’s continue to affect seniors and their families with the same weight. After decades of research, a promising new treatment will begin Phase I trials, offering hope to seven million current patients and the thirteen million people projected to have the disease by 2050. Here’s what seniors and caregivers in San Diego need to know about the possible Alzheimer’s vaccine.

“[Beta-amyloid] plaques and tangles of [tau protein] fibers in the brain are two of the main physical features of [Alzheimer’s disease],” we summarized in our World Alzheimer’s Month: Part 1 post back in 2014. Over time, Alzheimer’s disease researchers determined that preventing plaque and tangles from forming, or reducing their size once formed, was a promising treatment strategy. A healthy brain’s immune system clears away this material before it can accrete and harden. One theory is that microglia, a type of glial cell whose role is to clear toxins and waste from the brain, were somehow prevented from performing this function in Alzheimer’s patients. As microglia are the immune cells of the central nervous system, they ought to respond to immunotherapies.

What is Protollin?

Protollin was originally developed as a vaccine adjuvant, a drug added to or administered at the same time as vaccines to stimulate a strong immune response. According to Alzheimers News Today, “Protollin is a new intranasal immunotherapy made of proteins derived from the outer membrane of certain bacteria. … The therapy is delivered as a nasal spray that enables it to reach the brain, where it can mount the necessary immune response.” In previous preclinical studies, nasal administration of Protollin jump-started the microglia into doing their job and visibly prevented beta-amyloid plaques from building up in the brains of young mice.

How Does It Work?

As WedMD.com explains, “The vaccine features an experimental agent called Protollin that stimulates the immune system. It’s designed to prompt white blood cells in the lymph nodes on the sides and back of the neck to migrate to the brain and clear beta amyloid plaques, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. According to Dr. Tanuja Chitnis, principal investigator in the trial [and neurology professor], ‘For 20 years, there has been growing evidence that the immune system plays a key role in eliminating beta amyloid. This vaccine harnesses a novel arm of the immune system to treat AD.’”

Who Will Get First Access?

CBS News reports that “Brigham and Women’s Hospital [in Boston] will test the safety and efficacy of a nasal vaccine aimed at preventing and slowing Alzheimer’s disease. … The start of the small, Phase I clinical trial comes after nearly 20 years of research led by Howard L. Weiner, MD, co-director of the Ann Romney Center for Neurologic Diseases at the hospital. The trial will include 16 participants between the ages of 60 and 85, all with early symptomatic Alzheimer’s but otherwise generally healthy. They will receive two doses of the vaccine one week apart.” Phase I trials are usually small, as they study side effects, dosage and delivery method. A larger Phase II trials that will evaluate the efficacy of the treatment on patients with the disease is the next step. Patients who are interested in participating in a trial of a new medication can sign up on ResearchMatch.org, where researchers can find them.

Those providing and receiving home care in San Diego can be thankful this Thanksgiving for the exciting promise of a future treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!