Every five minutes a Canadian develops Alzheimer's disease. But there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon: by means of a vaccine, Serge Rivest, a neuro-immunology researcher and director of the CHU de Québec research centre, hopes to halve the number of victims of this cognitive disease within 25 years.
Serge Rivest is continuing laboratory testing before moving on to clinical trials and, ultimately, to the production of a vaccine to treat and prevent Alzheimer's disease.
Working with scientists from the pharmaceutical firm GlaxoSmithKline, the Université Laval Department of Molecular Medicine professor tested a molecule of bacterial origin known as "MPL" on mice with Alzheimer's symptoms. Long used as an additive in vaccines to enhance their effect, MPL appears to stimulate the brains' ability to defend itself against a substance that is toxic to our neurons… and our memories. "Alzheimer's disease is characterized by the production in the brain of a toxic molecule known as amyloid beta, which is caused by poor protein metabolism," explains Serge Rivest. "Due to aging and a possible brain imbalance, microglial cells, the nervous system's defenders, are less effective at eliminating these harmful molecules, which form deposits called senile plaques, the cause of Alzheimer's disease."
While studying immunity in mice, the researcher observed higher levels of microglial cells in mice with Alzheimer's disease than in healthy mice, which he took to be a natural defense mechanism of the brain. This was a controversial hypothesis, as current science considered the brain to be without any immune defense, implying that the microglial cells must be the cause of the disease. "In a healthy brain, these octopus-like cells effectively and naturally destroy the toxin as soon as it is secreted", observes professor Rivest. "Hence the idea of stimulating their production to counter the development of senile plaques and, possibly, of Alzheimer's disease".
It looks like the researcher is on the right track! The MLP molecule appears to be effective and without side effects. It was successful in eliminating 80% of the amyloid beta in the brains of the mice with the disease. Serge Rivest is continuing laboratory testing before moving on to clinical trials and, ultimately, to the production of a vaccine to treat and prevent Alzheimer's disease. Good news for the 1.4 million Canadians who will have the disease by 2030!