Alzheimer’s vaccine to be tested in Vermont

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(Host) A vaccine that could slow, or even stop the downward spiral of Alzheimer’s disease is about to be tested in Vermont.

A clinic in Bennington is participating in a study of a new drug which could eventually help make Alzheimer’s more treatable.

VPR’s Susan Keese reports:

(Keese) In an office at Bennington’s Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, a couple in their seventies is talking with their doctor. We’ll call them Mr. and Mrs. Smith, because they’ve asked us to protect their privacy.

(Solomon) So, we are going to start this protocol today
(Smith) .mm hmm
(Solomon) And I just wanted to talk with you and see what questions you had.

(Keese) Dr. Paul Solomon directs the Bennington-based Memory Clinic. He and his staff have been working with the Smiths for several years, ever since Mr. Smith started noticing lapses in his wife’s memory.

Mrs. Smith is a fit-looking woman in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. The diagnosis means that irreplaceable cells in her brain are dying. She’s currently taking two medicines designed to make the brain cells that are left function more efficiently.

(Solomon) “What kind of things have you noticed since those two drugs have been combined?”
(Smith) “I think probably a bit of improvement. Short term memory is declining a bit in the past few months.”

(Keese) Right now no approved medicine can stop the death of brain cells that causes the progression of this devastating disease. But Mrs. Smith is one of a handful of the clinic’s patients who’ve signed on for a clinical trial of a drug that may do that.

Solomon says the vaccine is one of a class of experimental drugs known informally as plaque busters. In a 1999 test, patients treated with the vaccine had less of the plaque commonly associated with brain cell death than unvaccinated patients at similar stages of the disease.

(Solomon) “So the best interpretation of that is that the vaccine has both the ability to prevent the formation of new plaques but also the ability to clear plaque from the brain.”

(Keese) Solomon says it’s still not known whether reducing the plaque will improve patients’ memory or thought processes. But he says it’s a reasonable hypothesis.

He says the earlier tests were halted after a few patients developed non lethal brain inflammations. Researchers now have a new version of the drug believed to be free of those side effects.

(Solomon) “And thus the new trial.”

(Keese) The trial will conducted at about 2twenty sites around the country. Four patients from the Bennington clinic are currently involved.

Solomon hopes to enroll as many as fifteen early-to mid-stage Alzheimer’s patients in the eighteen-month test.

He says the memory clinic is supported by grants from the National Institutes for Health, and also by grants from pharmaceutical companies. Since its start in 1987 the clinic has been involved in many clinical trials.

(Solomon) “When we began seeing patients, there were no drugs available to treat Alzheimers disease. We now have four drugs available. We’ve worked on each of those drugs in this clinic. And I think as we go forward into the next decade, we are going to develop drugs to address the progression. So I think it’s an exciting time to be working in Alzheimers disease.”

(Keese) Solomon says experiments like these have the potential to make life more manageable for Alzheimer’s patients and their families.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese.

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