Study finds changes in brain linked with Alzheimer’s on people as young as 3

Should upcoming dementia vaccine be given at a much earlier age?
By @vitthernandez on
Alzheimer's Disease on Brains
One hemisphere of a healthy brain (L) is pictured next to one hemisphere of a brain of a person suffering from Alzheimer disease, at the Morphological unit of psychopathology in the Neuropsychiatry division of the Belle Idee University Hospital in Chene-Bourg near Geneva March 14, 2011. Reuters/Denis Balibouse

Amid report that researchers in Flinders University are developing a vaccine against Alzheimer's disease, interest on finding a treatment or cure for the cognitive ailment runs high. Anavex Life Sciences is conducting Phase 2 of its clinical trial for Anaves 2-73, while researchers at the University of Hawaii found that changes in the brain linked with the disease could be detected during childhood.

The detection is for people who are at a higher risk for Alzheimer’s, says a study published on Wednesday in the Neurology journal. The discovery supports a new theory that the diseases, which robs the mind of memories, is a developmental disorder that starts earlier in life, not during old age, reports Wall Street Journal.

Experimental medication that tried to target the proteins that build up in the brain in the elderly have disappointing results. The findings of the new study, which used a dataset of 1,187 healthy children and young adults aged 3 to 20, found that in some of the participants, there is one copy of the e4 variant.

The variant is the version of the apolipoprotein E (APOE) gene most associated with heightened Alzheimer’s risk. The participants underwent brain imaging and cognitive testing to check for the presence of the APOE gene.

The youth with the e4 variant had hippocampus significantly smaller than other participants in the study. Some regions of their cerebral cortex, which is involved in tasks such as recognising objects and making decisions, were also the smallest.

These change in brain structure are believed to be signs of Alzheimer’s disease, which indicates it could be present already during childhood, says Linda Chang, lead author of the study and director of the University of Hawaii in Manoa’s Neuroscience and MRI Research programme.

When given cognitive tests, the kids with two copies of the e4 variant scored lowest on some memory tests. Since the correlation between the test scores and genetic trait was inconsistent, it points to the need to perform more tests on children with the e2 variant, the least-common version of the APOE gene to find out its impact on brain function.

The Daily Telegraph reports that Flinders University researchers estimate if there is successful human clinical trials of a dementia vaccine, it would could be available in the market within three to five years. Nikolai Petrovsky, medicine professor at the university, says, “You could actually give it to everyone, say when they turn 50, a bit like we give all high-risk groups a flu shot, and thereby stop it in its tracks. You can immunize for it before it even starts,” quotes The Australian.

Given the University of Hawaii’s findings, vaccine could perhaps be given much earlier, similar to infant vaccines for a host of diseases that afflict humans.

VIDEO: Could a vaccine prevent Alzheimer’s?