Monday, March 7, 2011

Nasal Spray Vaccine

Those of us who have been following Alzheimer’s research have learned to listen to any news with optimistic caution. The latest research at Tel Aviv University shows promise for a nasal spray that will work on stroke as well as Alzheimer’s.

Is this a case of everything old is new again? When Jim first developed dementia, I read every piece of information I could about research. I checked out drug trials and tried to get him enrolled in an Alzheimer’s vaccine study. I remember reading that best way to introduce a vaccine into the brain was through nasal spray. No, I don’t remember exactly what year it was, but Jim was living at home so it must have been at least eleven years ago.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited about this study. Using animal models, researchers discovered that the drug introduced through nasal spray stimulated the body’s own immune system to repair brain damage caused by Alzheimer’s and strokes related to Alzheimer’s. The numbers being thrown around are that this research drug could help 80% of people with Alzheimer’s. This news would be more exciting if the drug was not so far from being available at the local pharmacy. In fact, the drug has not been used on humans.

Can this be the breakthrough to unlock the mystery of Alzheimer’s? I certainly hope it is. Just like the vaccine studies I tried to get Jim into more than a dozen years ago, this drug shows promise of reversing the damage caused by the disease.

Does anyone else find it a strange coincident that the acronym for the Tel Aviv University is TAU? It first caught my eye when I saw a report that began “TAU researchers develop a vaccine…” The hallmarks of Alzheimer’s are the plaques and tangles that form in the brain. Most research targets removing the beta-amyloid plaques. At first, I thought the statement meant these researchers were concentrating on the tangles which are made up of twisted fibers of tau.

With the woeful funding the USA provides for Alzheimer’s research, it is not surprising that the most exciting news to come along in several years was from Israel. The lack of funding for Alzheimer’s research means that many of the best and brightest USA researchers concentrate on better-funded studies.

Only time will tell whether the vaccine will be the long awaited Alzheimer’s cure, or whether it will be another disappointment to the millions who wait, and wait, and wait. What are they waiting for? They are waiting for that very first Alzheimer’s survivor.

No disease should be without hope. I know that I desperately searched for a ray of hope for the bleak prognosis Jim was given. Why have researchers found effective treatments for AIDS, many types of cancer, heart disease and other diseases, but come up empty with Alzheimer’s? A lot has to do with the priorities and a serious commitment to stopping a killer disease.

Alzheimer’s has a reputation of being a disease for the elderly, and we all know that no one is going to live forever. Early onset Alzheimer’s and related dementias affect people younger than age sixty-five—sometimes decades younger. Regardless of age, Alzheimer’s is a life-altering disease that requires a serious commitment to caregiving and palliative care that can stretch over twenty years.

Today, Alzheimer’s is a fatal, irreversible brain disease. The 5.3 million Americans with Alzheimer’s and 79 million boomers at risk should be encouraged by the TAU study. I believe that eventually a study is going to come along that can stop Alzheimer’s in its insidious tracks. Is it this one? Maybe, maybe not.

Alzheimer’s is a worldwide problem, and every country in the world, including the USA, should participate in finding a solution. At a time when our National Institute of Health funding is on the budget chopping block, we must insist that Alzheimer’s research move forward.

Copyright © March 2011 L. S. Fisher

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