Researchers at the Université Laval, CHU de Québec recently demonstrated some promising results in the fight against Alzheimer's disease. Their work targets the amyloid beta protein that builds up in the brains of those with Alzheimer's. In Alzheimer's disease, it appears that the brain loses its normal ability to clear the amyloid beta, resulting in the formation of plaques which then interfere with brain functioning.
Based on that thought, researchers administered weekly injections of monophosphoryl lipid A (MPL) to mice with Alzheimer's disease for 12 weeks, with the goal of boosting the immune activity of the microglial cells in the brain. Microglial cells work to clear excess amyloid beta. MPL has been used for some time as an additive to some vaccinations to stimulate the body's immune response to those vaccinations.
The results of this study are impressive. During the treatment, up to 80 percent of amyloid beta plaques in the mice's brains were eliminated. Additionally, the mice's cognitive ability significantly improved; this was measured by watching how long the mice took to navigate a water maze, a well-established test of cognition and memory in mice.
The researchers concluded that MPL could potentially be used both as a treatment for Alzheimer's disease (since the mice who already had Alzheimer's improved significantly) and as a preventative vaccine for Alzheimer's. The thought is that the presence of MPL could proactively prevent the amyloid beta from accumulating and therefore prevent the deterioration of cognitive functioning.
Interestingly, other research has also pointed to the importance of boosting the immune response in treating Alzheimer's disease. Obviously, this current study needs replication, and (if such positive results continue) eventual testing in humans. The safety of MPL for humans has already been established, which should significantly speed up the research process.
This study was partly funded by GlaxoSmithKline, a pharmaceutical company, and was published in an early online edition of the journal Proceedings for the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.