The Daily Telegraph (Sydney)


Aussie-aided break­through

- MERCEDES MAGUIRE Health · Mental Health · Medications · Medicine · Science · Psychiatry · Neurology · Health Conditions · Pharmacology · South Australia · Australia · South Australia · Flinders · United States of America · U.S. government · Flinders University

A NEW vac­cine that could help treat or pre­vent the mem­ory loss dis­ease de­men­tia could be on the mar­ket within five to 10 years.

A US-gov­ern­ment backed project, de­vel­oped in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Pro­fes­sor Niko­lai Petro­vsky at South Aus­tralia’s Flin­ders Uni­ver­sity, has pro­gressed from test­ing on an­i­mals to hu­man tri­als, a sig­nif­i­cant step in the drug de­vel­op­ment process.

“The work lead­ing up to this has been go­ing on for 20 years, this is not the start of the jour­ney, it’s the end,” Prof. Petro­vsky, a pro­fes­sor in en­docrinol­ogy at Flin­ders Uni­ver­sity said.

“We know Alzheimer’s dis­ease is a big prob­lem and we know it will get big­ger as our pop­u­la­tion ages.

“Un­for­tu­nately we don’t have great treat­ments avail­able right now, we have some medicines that help re­duce symp­toms, but none that ac­tu­ally deal with what is hap­pen­ing to the brain.

“This vac­cine could be rev­o­lu­tion­ary. It’s not some­thing that will be avail­able to­mor­row, but it’s an ex­cit­ing step in the right di­rec­tion.”

Alzheimer’s dis­ease, the lead­ing cause of age-re­lated de­men­tia, is caused by the build up of ab­nor­mally formed pro­teins in the brain.

Prof. Petro­vsky likens the ef­fects of de­men­tia on the brain to what hap­pens to an egg yolk when it is boiled, clump­ing and hard­en­ing. The dual vac­cine will work to al­low an­ti­bod­ies to de­tect and then digest these clumps on the brain, thus po­ten­tially re­vers­ing the dis­ease.

Prof. Petro­vsky, who will base himself in the US for the first three months of 2020 to help fur­ther the re­search, said the fact that the de­vel­op­ment of the vac­cine has been al­lowed to move from an­i­mal test­ing to hu­man tri­als is cause for cel­e­bra­tion.

“That was a big hur­dle.” he said. “Mil­lions of re­searchers make claims of a cure (for dif­fer­ent dis­eases) in an­i­mals but only a frac­tion get to the hu­man trial stage. And that’s mainly be­cause it’s ex­pen­sive.

“The dif­fer­ence here is that the project has the backing of the US Gov­ern­ment so it has the re­sources to move this along.”

He hopes clin­i­cal tri­als will be­gin in 18 to 20 months with the vac­cine on the mar­ket in five to 10 years if all goes well.

While the vac­cine will hope­fully be used to re­verse the ef­fects of de­men­tia al­ready noted in a per­son, Prof. Petro­vsky said it is pos­si­ble it could also be used to pre­vent the dis­ease in peo­ple pre­dis­posed to it.

“What we do know is that when peo­ple have very se­vere dis­ease it’s much harder to make ther­apy work. So the ques­tion with a vac­cine like this is, do we use it when peo­ple get the very first in­di­ca­tion they have a prob­lem? Or, do we even try to get it to peo­ple who are at risk or with a fam­ily his­tory, for in­stance?”

De­men­tia is a dis­ease which, ac­cord­ing to the peak body De­men­tia Aus­tralia, causes “a loss of mem­ory, in­tel­lect, ra­tio­nal­ity, so­cial skills and phys­i­cal func­tion­ing.” And while it can oc­cur in any­one, it most com­monly af­fects peo­ple over the age of 65.

There are more than 447,000 peo­ple with de­men­tia in Aus­tralia and with­out a break­through that num­ber is ex­pected to climb to almost 590,000 by 2028, ac­cord­ing to De­men­tia Aus­tralia.

It is the sec­ond lead­ing cause of death in Aus­tralians and the main cause of death in women, sur­pass­ing heart dis­ease. Around 250 peo­ple are di­ag­nosed with de­men­tia each day and the num­ber of new cases will in­crease to 318 peo­ple per day by 2025.

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