Vaccines are arguably one of the greatest inventions of medical science of all time. Now, researchers are looking to take vaccine technology one step further to protect against neurodegenerative diseases like dementia. In this Special Feature, we asked experts about what is currently under development, how a dementia vaccine would work, and how quickly we may see one becoming available to the public.
Dementia is an umbrella term referring to a range of disorders that affect the way in which a person’s brain works, causing symptoms including memory loss, behavior changes, and difficulty speakingTrusted Source and walking.
The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, which accounts for 60% to 80% of dementia cases.
More than 55 millionTrusted Source people around the world have dementia, with about 10 million cases added each year.
There are some Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved drugs for Alzheimer’s disease aimed at either changing disease progression or helping lower some symptoms of the condition. However, there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease or most cases of dementia.
Researchers are now looking at the possibility of protecting a person from developing dementia through a vaccine.
Traditional vaccines, such as vaccines for the flu and shingles, train the body’s immune system to fight off specific viral infections.
“More and more, there’s an appreciation of the immune system being relevant in the central nervous system, both in terms of driving a disease state, but also potentially recovering from or even preventing a disease from happening, including something as complex and devastating as dementia,” said Dr. David A. Merrill, a psychiatrist, and director of the Pacific Neuroscience Institute’s Pacific Brain Health Center at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA.
He gave the example of recent evidence showing a person getting the flu or pneumonia vaccine might decrease their risk of developing dementia.
“It’s spurring the idea ‘could immune system activation or support actually help stave off the dementing process or nerve degenerative disease process?’,” Dr. Merrill continued.