Image of Howard L. Weiner, M.D.; Image credit: Brigham and Women's Hospital
Howard L. Weiner, M.D.; Image credit: Brigham and Women’s Hospital

For the first time, researchers will test the safety and efficacy of a nasal vaccine to prevent and slow Alzheimer’s disease progression in humans.

The new phase 1 study follows 20 years of research and will test a vaccine containing the immune modulating drug Protollin. Sixteen participants with early, symptomatic Alzheimer’s will each receive two doses delivered intranasally, one week apart, according to Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, where the trial will be conducted.

Protollin is already in use in humans as an adjuvant for other vaccines. Intranasal administration of the drug has shown promise as a way to target and eliminate beta amyloid — the protein linked to brain plaques found in Alzheimer’s — by stimulating the immune system, the researchers reported. 

“For 20 years, there has been growing evidence that the immune system plays a key role in eliminating beta amyloid,” study lead Tanuja Chitnis, M.D., said in a statement. “This vaccine harnesses a novel arm of the immune system to treat AD. Research in this area has paved the way for us to pursue a whole new avenue for potentially treating not only AD, but also other neurodegenerative diseases.”

If the trial is successful, it may lead to a nontoxic treatment for people with Alzheimer’s, added investigator Howard Weiner, M.D., whose 20 years of research at Brigham helped lead to the trial. It also could be prescribed early to help prevent Alzheimer’s in people at high risk of developing the disease, he said.