Washington Researchers may be one step closer to finding a cure for Alzheimer's disease, medical scientists announced Tuesday.
The vaccine, still being tested, could help curtail the disease's initial development, researchers said.
Dale Schenk, the vaccine developer, made the announcement at the World Alzheimer Congress 2000, the first international conference designated specifically to the disease.
Known as AN-1792, the compound works by reducing beta amyloid plaques from the brain and preventing further growth and development. Scientists think these excess plaques slow nerve-cell functioning and kill nerve cells in the brain.
Though the plaque is not found in every Alzheimer's patient, researchers have found excess plaques in a majority of patients suffering from the disease.
The plaques act as a brain invader, said Schenk, vice president of discovery research at Elan Pharmaceuticals, a division of Elan Corp. "We are optimistic that we can attack this invader at its source and eventually help the millions of people and families worldwide who are living with this devastating disease."
Nearly 12 million people worldwide suffer from the disease, including 4 million Americans. Scientists project that unless a cure is discovered, more than 14 million Americans could develop the disease by the year 2050.
"We are on the edge of a worldwide epidemic," said Bill Thies, Alzheimer's Assn. vice president of medical and scientific affairs. "That number will go up precipitously as the world ages."
Close to 50 percent of people age 85 and older and 10 percent of those over age 65 suffer from Alzheimer's. A small percentage of individuals under 50 develops the disease.
However, since scientists have not proved that the plaques cause Alzheimer's or are a result of the disease, the potential vaccine is not considered a cure.