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MPL molecule

Courtesy of Serge Rivest

Brain molecule MPL (monophosphoryl lipid A) stimulates phagocytosis in microglia and monocytes.

Clinical trials hopeful after discovery of potential Alzheimer's vaccine

by Kimberly Shine
Jan 17, 2013

Clinical trials testing the outcome of a treatment that may lead to an Alzheimer’s vaccine could begin within the next two years, according to Canadian researchers.  

“The goal is to go to trial as soon as possible,” said Serge Rivest, a professor at University of Laval School of Medicine in Québec, Canada and a researcher at the CHU de Québec research center.
He  led a team of researchers from the University of Laval, CHU de Québec and pharmaceutical firm GlaxoSmithKline Vaccines (GSK).

In a preliminary study, over a 12-week period, the researchers injected a brain molecule, called MPL (monophosphoryl lipid A), into mice with Alzheimer’s symptoms and found significant removal of plaque deposits, called senile plaques. In the best cases, elimination was 80 percent, the study reported.

The trials will look at the use of MPL, a molecule that arouses brain immune cell activity, to fight production and deposition of a toxic molecule, called amyloid beta, Rivest said.

Senile plaques of amyloid beta are what researchers say causes Alzheimer’s, according to the National Institutes of Health.

But because success can differ from mice to humans, some experts are questioning; specifically, the relationship between the number of plaque deposits, neurofibrillary tangles and the causation of Alzheimer’s.

“The study is interesting but its relevance to Alzheimer’s disease should be cautiously interpreted,” said Dr. M. Marsel Mesulam, a professor of neuroscience at The Ken & Ruth Davee Department of Neurology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.

“Killing amyloid alone may be fine for the mouse but not for the human,” he said, noting that tangles, not plaque, kill brain nerve cells.

With their hope based on pre-clinical results, GSK researchers realize they cannot yet celebrate.

“There is still a great deal of work to be done before we know if this compound has the potential to be developed further,” GSK representative Melinda Stubbee said.

An estimated 5.1 million Americans may have Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia in older adults, according to the National Institutes of Health.