Last fall a clinical trial got under way in the U.S. and Europe to test a hugely touted vaccine designed to reverse the course of Alzheimer's disease. In February that landmark trial came to an abrupt end after 15 patients fell ill with brain inflammation. The vaccine's maker, the Irish drug company Elan, has stopped giving the shots to its 360 volunteers while doctors determine what caused this serious side effect. Despite the setback, proponents of the vaccine still believe that the immune system can be taught to fight Alzheimer's--even if they aren't certain how the vaccine works.
The Elan vaccine, referred to as AN-1792, is a synthetic version of the beta-amyloid protein. In Alzheimer's the protein becomes insoluble and accumulates as whitish plaques in the brain, thereby leading to nerve cell damage and dementia.
This article was originally published with the title Peeling Plaque.