There is still no cure for Alzheimer's disease, but a promising and cutting-edge treatment developed by scientists in Switzerland may offer hope for early prevention.
One of the hypothesized causes of Alzheimer's is the dangerous accumulation of protein called amyloid beta, which are produced by neurons, in the brain. Too much amyloid beta turns into protein plaques, which can kill neurons, impair a person's memory and eventually develop into a debilitating illness.
Now, experts from École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) have found a way to "tag" amyloid beta with antibodies that alert the patient's system to attack and clear the harmful protein.
The treatment is most effective when given to patients as early as possible. However, repeated vaccine injections can cause side effects, and so EPFL researchers decided to turn the treatment into an implantable capsule that can deliver the safe and steady flow of antibodies.
The research team has tested the capsule in an eighth-month mice study. They implanted the capsule in the tissue under the skin, and over time, the capsule released a consistent flow of antibodies into the bloodstream that passes to the brain.
The implantable capsule was based on a design from Patrick Aebischer's lab in 2014, and it is made up of two biocompatible permeable membranes that are sealed together with polypropylene frame. It contains a hydrogel that facilitates cell growth.
Scientists also designed it in a way that it won't be deemed a target by the immune system. The cells inside the capsule are compatible with the patient, so the capsule won't be attacked. The membrane protects the cells from being identified.
This also opens the possibility that cells from a single donor can be used on multiple patients.
The mice in the trial have a genetic line that is often used to simulate Alzheimer's disease. Researchers found that the mice showed dramatic reduction of amyloid beta plaque load. The constant flow of antibodies from the capsule over the course of 39 weeks indeed prevented the accumulation of amyloid beta plaques in the brain.
The antibodies also reduced the phosphorylation of protein tau, which is also another sign of Alzheimer's found in mice.
"The proof-of-concept work is a landmark," the EPFL wrote.
Meanwhile, the trial has yet to be proved safe for human trials, and further research must be done. But if it is indeed safe and successful, it is one great step toward the fight against Alzheimer's disease.
The findings of the study are featured in the journal Brain.