According to the Alzheimer’s Association, one in nine Americans over 65 has Alzheimer’s. For those 85 or older, that number is one in three. Over five million Americans currently live with the disease and it is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Worldwide, over 47 million are afflicted with this irreversible brain disorder that shuts down our memories and our ability to think.
Dr. Eitan Okun heads the Paul E. Feder Alzheimer’s Research Lab at Bar-Ilan University in Israel. He has devoted his life’s work to finding a way to prevent the disease from taking hold of our minds. Recently, he has developed a vaccine that has shown great promise in laboratory conditions. He firmly believes that before long this preventative treatment will prove successful in protecting human adults from contracting this heartbreaking illness.
“Alzheimer’s isn’t caused by a virus,” he explains. “What actually causes it in most cases remains mostly unknown. The vaccine that I am working on targets the amyloid beta proteins that accumulate in the brain of people with Alzheimer’s. We’re trying to help the body to go into attack-mode against this protein. So far, it has proved effective in studies with mice.”
The next stage is testing the vaccine on humans. Dr. Okun is considering what age groups should be included in the trials and whether people with a higher likelihood of getting Alzheimer’s should be included.
“There are two subgroups of people who have higher odds of getting the disease,” he points out. “We have people who inherit the disease in their 50s. And then there is the group that gets Alzheimer’s most commonly and at the youngest age. These are people with Down syndrome who often get Alzheimer’s in their 40s or even their 30s.”
According to Dr. Okun, human trials will begin in two or three years.
“These critical trials will determine whether the vaccine actually works in humans. Depending on the success rate and side effects from that testing, we will be able to know how much more time is needed to make the vaccine available on a global scale. I am convinced that a vaccination approach is the way to go with neurodegenerative diseases.”
In addition to his potentially groundbreaking vaccine, Dr. Okun is working on new ways to diagnose Alzheimer’s earlier in its progression. Using the latest in MRI testing, he is aiming to be able to catch the earliest signs of amyloid proteins in the brain.
“My researchers and I have been seeking to construct a protein that could enter the bloodstream, make it through the blood-brain barrier, bind to the amyloids, and then be visible in an MRI scan,” he explains. “I am always looking for new ways to attack this disease from various angles. I have never been more optimistic that we will soon find a way to prevent it for current and future generations.”
For more information on how you can help support Dr. Eitan Okun and advance his research for an Alzheimer’s vaccination, please contact American Friends of Bar-Ilan University at (212) 906-3900 or on the web at AFBIU.org.