owed that the antibodies prevent this from happening by reducing accumulation of the amyloid beta proteins in vesicles inside the cell called endosomes.
"A lot of research has been done on protein clusters outside nerve cells," Gouras says. "In this study, we investigated for the first time what happens inside the cells and how antibodies can help prevent clusters from forming."
The researchers also found that the antibodies helped restore communication between nerve cells. In Alzheimer's patients, the protein clusters alter parts of the cell surfaces - the synapses - that help nerve cells talk to one another. As a result, thoughts are not transmitted, memory is lost, and new learning is hindered. But Gouras and his team showed that the antibodies cleared the protein clusters and helped cells talk to one another again.
Over the past seven years, research results on the use of antibodies against Alzheimer's disease have been so promising that two pharmaceutical companies, Ireland's Elan Corp. and U.S. partner Wyeth, have been conducting clinical trials of a potential vaccine. Although the first trials were stopped when 6 percent of the patients developed encephalitis - an inflammation of brain tissue - other clinical tests on the treated patients have been encouraging. In the second half of this year, the two companies will test a potential drug, called Bapineuzumab, on patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's symptoms.
If successful, these trials could result in a new type of vaccine containing antibodies that would directly attack the amyloid beta protein clusters. Unlike common vaccines, which, in this case, would contain pieces of amyloid beta proteins and would stimulate the immune system to produce antibodies, the new vaccine would directly provide the antibodies to patients.
"These new developments are encouraging, but possible side effects may arise," Gouras said.
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