Alzheimer's Vaccine Tested at Penn

Sunday, July 01, 2007

It is a devastating, debilitating disease that costs millions of older Americans their independence.

A cure for Alzheimer's remains elusive, but there is new hope that a vaccine could slow or prevent the decline.

The numbers of Alzheimer's cases are scary.

"Four million people in the United States. That number could double or triple within the next ten to fifteen years," said Dr. Christopher Clark of the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

For each number, there's a person like 87-year-old Josephine Feige. Her daughter first noticed the effects of Alzheimer's seven years ago.

"When she first had memory loss it was just mild things like where did I put my keys," said Joan Feige.

While Josephine keeps her body fit with swimming and skating, her once-sharp recall continues slipping away.

"More recently what occurred was not being able to remember names at all," explained her daughter.

"It strips their humanity from them, their personhood," said Dr. Clark, who is heading up a trial of a potential vaccine at the University of Pennsylvania. The vaccine's target is to break up the plaques that lead to lesions in the brain.

"If you can get the body to clean up the plaques that are formed, the brain will function better," said Dr. Clark.

Once a week, Josephine gets an infusion at the Rallston House study center.

Since this is a double blind trial, she doesn't know whether she is getting the active drug or a placebo.

Feige believes her mother is getting the real vaccine.

"I taught her 3 names and she remembered them the whole day," she said.

Dr. Clark says the vaccine would be given in mid-life or earlier because Alzheimer's lesions form 20 years before the first symptoms.

"If you can just slow it down you have the chance of keeping that person functional," he said.

Josephine says she didn't think twice before joining the trial.

"Maybe some way along the line it will help me," she said.

(Copyright 2007 by Action News and 6abc. All Rights Reserved.)

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