Bhaskar Alzheimer

A team of University of New Mexico researchers, including Indian American Kiran Bhaskar, have developed a vaccine that could protect against Alzheimer’s disease. (mgm.unm.edu photo)

Researchers across the world are trying to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, a progressive memory disorder. But for now, researchers at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences, including Kiran Bhaskar, an Indian American associate professor in UNM’s department of molecular genetics & microbiology, have developed a vaccine that could prevent the disease.

Behind the memory impairments, there is a perfect storm of destruction in the brain, stemming in part from accumulations of a protein called tau, the university explained in a press release, adding, normally a stabilizing structure inside of neurons, tau can accumulate in long tangles that disrupt the ability of neurons to communicate with one another.

These researchers, it said, have developed a vaccine that could prevent the formation of the tau tangles and potentially prevent the cognitive decline typically seen in Alzheimer’s patients.

Nicole Maphis, a Ph.D. candidate in UNM’s Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program, working in the lab of Bhaskar, found that when the vaccine was given to mice, they developed antibodies that cleared the tau protein from their brains – and the response lasted for months, the university said.

She and Bhaskar then tested the animals in a battery of maze-like tests.

Mice receiving the vaccination performed remarkably better than those that hadn’t. MRI scans showed that the vaccinated animals had less brain shrinkage, suggesting that the vaccine prevented neurons from dying.

The vaccine was created with help from UNM scientists David Peabody and Bryce Chackerian.

In the future, said the university, Bhaskar hopes to get funding to commercialize this vaccine in order to create an injection that could potentially be tested in human patients.

Bhaskar also hopes to receive funding for the vaccine from a federal Small Business Innovation Research grant to move the research project forward.

But creating a drug, the university added, could potentially cost millions of dollars and take decades.

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