Alzheimer's & Dementia Patients
Patients with Alzheimer's and dementia sit inside the Alzheimer foundation in Mexico City April 19, 2012. Reuters/Edgard Garrido

Experts at Adelaide’s Flinders University have made an Alzheimer’s breakthrough that may result in world’s first dementia vaccine. Developed by Australian and US scientists, this vaccine may not only prevent but also reverse early stages of Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia.

The Alzheimer’s vaccine may be tested on humans within the next two to three years after being bankrolled by the US Government. Scientists from Flinders University and America’s Institute of Molecular Medicine and University of California developed the vaccine by targeting proteins in the brain that block neurons.

The formula targets tau proteins and abnormal beta-amyloid that cause Alzheimer’s. The scientists are confident that the vaccine would eventually be used as preventative vaccine. According to Flinders University medicine professor Nikolai Petrovsky, the proteins must be removed from the brain as Alzheimer’s, and dementia sufferers have lots of these broken down proteins inside.

“Essentially what we have designed is a vaccine that makes the immune system produce antibodies and those antibodies act like tow trucks so they come to your driveway, they latch on to the breakdown protein or car and they pull it out of the driveway,” Petrovsky told 891 ABC.

More than 353,800 Australians suffer from dementia, according to Alzheimer’s Australia. The number is expected to touch 900,000 by 2050. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has projected a US$600 billion (AU$790 billion) cost per year as total global societal cost of dementia-related illnesses and care. The WHO also noted there are 7.7 million new cases every year.

The study, published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports, revealed that the first protein “to go wrong” was a-beta. However, targeting the second protein tau actually helped reverse the progression.

“Interestingly the second protein, which has been found more recently, which we are targeting … it turns out if you target tau with the vaccine you can actually reverse the disease even once it has developed,” said Petrovsky.

The researchers believe that a vaccine targeting both proteins was a key feature. Petrovsky added that the vaccine was being “bankrolled by the world's biggest government.” It will be tested on humans in the next two to three years.

Editor's note: Citing another publication as source, this report originally noted a projection of 750 million new cases of Alzheimer’s each year. We have now included WHO's statistics on the number of new cases every year. We regret the error.