MedUni Vienna: First steps towards TAU vaccine against Alzheimer's

Around 10% of all those aged over 65 and one third of those over 80 suffer from Alzheimer's disease.

Currently around 90,000 people are affected by it in Austria. The main focus of international research in this area, and also that of MedUni Vienna, is to develop clinical treatments. The University Department of Neurology, in collaboration with the University Department of Clinical Pharmacology, is conducting a Phase I study into the development of a Tau-protein-based vaccine. Tau proteins play an important role in material transport within neurons. If the Tau proteins are hyperphosphorylated, material transport is disrupted, resulting in functional disturbances and ultimately leading to cell death. This is one of the main characteristics of Alzheimer’s disease.

"The vaccine is well tolerated," reports lead investigator Peter Dal-Bianco, on the occasion of the upcoming World Alzheimer's Day next Monday. The Medical University of Graz is partnering the University Department of Clinical Pharmacology of MedUni Vienna in the study. Based on the preliminary findings, it looks hopeful that the first steps have been made towards developing a vaccine against the cause of Alzheimer's disease, even though this will not be available for a few years yet. Dal-Bianco: "The follow-on Phase II study is already underway." MedUni Vienna is regarded as a world leader in clinical research into this immunotherapy.

The vaccine should reduce the level of pathological tau proteins and thus halt any further memory loss. Dal-Bianco: "Tau proteins are comparable to the sleeper bolts on railway lines. If the "bolts" come loose from the anchoring, the train comes off the rails. That is exactly what happens in Alzheimer's disease." Material transport to the tubulin in the axon (nerve process) is derailed if the Tau protein is hyperphosphorylated. This malfunction in the neurons is jointly responsible for the development of Alzheimer's disease.

Dementia can at least be delayed by doing the right things
Dementia in general is a growing problem in our society, where people's life expectancy is constantly increasing. Throughout the world, 46 million people are affected and the trend is an upward one. According to the World Alzheimer's Report 2015, someone somewhere in the world develops dementia every 3.2 seconds and the number of sufferers is set to triple by the year 2050. Then, according to the report, there will be 131 million dementia sufferers worldwide. Around two thirds of them have Alzheimer's disease.

"At present we are unable to prevent or cure Alzheimer's but we are able to postpone onset of the disease into old age by doing the right things," says Dal-Bianco. By taking the right preventive measures, it is possible to delay the onset of the disease. These measures include taking plenty of exercise, having normal blood pressure, not being overweight, having a good social network, having lifelong curiosity and eagerness to learn, not smoking and eating more fish, vegetables and fruit.

Dal-Bianco: “Inactive people have an 80% higher Alzheimer's risk than people who are physically active." Even a 25% reduction in this risk would mean that around 1 million people in the world would avoid suffering from Alzheimer's," says the MedUni expert. In other words: they would die from natural causes before the clinical symptoms of Alzheimer's could manifest themselves.

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