New medicines and research on Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and cancer

Medical Minutes

Alzheimer’s disease vaccine under investigation

Some good news to report about Alzheimer’s disease and a potential vaccine. Researchers in California have teamed up with scientists in Australia and developed a new vaccine against Alzheimer’s disease that could be tested in humans within the next two years. After successful animal studies, investigators are hoping to produce a new vaccine to remove “brain plaque” and tau protein aggregates linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

The successful animal studies have just been reported in the journal Alzheimer’s Research & Therapy and pave the way for more work in 2020, with medical researchers at the Institute for Molecular Medicine and University of California, Irvine (UCI) working with a successful vaccine developed by Flinders University Professor Nikolai Petrovsky in South Australia. The latest research aims to come up with a new treatment to remove accumulated beta-amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles composed of hyperphosphorylated tau, which together lead to neurodegeneration and cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s disease is the leading cause of age-related dementia. Yet, attempts to come up with effective treatments, reliable biomarkers or preventive strategies have failed. Petrovsky says the current vaccine approach is a new reason for optimism. “Our approach is looking to cover all bases and get past previous roadblocks in finding a therapy to slow the accumulation of A/tau molecules and delay Alzheimer’s disease progression in a the rising number of people around the world,” says Petrovsky.

Cannabis substitute may benefit people with Parkinson’s

A drug that provides the benefits obtained from medicinal cannabis without the “high” or other side effects may be a new treatment for Parkinson’s disease. The drug is called HU-308 and it has been found to reduce devastating involuntary movements called dyskinesias, which are a side effect from years of treatment for Parkinson’s disease.

Researchers at the Centre for Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine (CNRM) at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) and the Applied Medical Research Institute of St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney, Australia, have shown in mice that HU-308 is as effective as amantadine, the only available treatment for dyskinesias. In addition, the researchers found that the combination of HU-308 with amantadine appears to be far more effective than either drug used alone.

Professor Bryce Vissel, who is the director of the CNRM, said the findings present the possibility of new options for Parkinson’s patients. “Our study suggests that a derivative of HU-308, either alone or in combination with amantadine, may be a more effective treatment for dyskinesias,” says Dr. Vissel. “Currently there is limited evidence about the effectiveness of medicinal cannabis. One problem is that no cannabis preparation is the same and cannabis has numerous effects, some of which may not be beneficial in Parkinson’s disease.”

Cannabis works on several receptors in the brain, including CB1 and CB2. The psychoactive effect is caused mostly because of receptor CB1. Professor Vissel said HU-308 works only on receptor CB2, allowing medicinal benefits to be administered without causing psychoactive effects like drowsiness or any high. Currently, the team is investigating ways to block inflammation of the brain to maintain and restore memory and slow the progression for both Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. They have found that HU-308 works by reducing inflammation in the brain, affecting the neurons and immune cells.

Walking away from prostate cancer

A new study is suggesting that men who keep physically active may have a much lower risk of developing prostate cancer than previously recognized. Researchers conducted the largest ever study to use genetics as a measurement for physical activity and they found that being more active reduces the risk of prostate cancer.

The study, which was published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, included more than 140,000 men of which 80,000 had prostate cancer. It found that men with the variation in their DNA sequence that makes them more likely to be active, had a 51% reduced risk of prostate cancer compared to men who did not have this particular variation. Importantly, the findings relate to overall physical activity and not just intense exercise.

Previous studies have shown that being active can reduce the risk of bowel cancer, breast cancer and other cancers. However, the evidence of physical activity on prostate cancer has been limited. The current study, which uses genetics as a proxy measurement for physical activity, shows that being active may in fact have a large impact on prostate cancer risk. To date, there has been little evidence about lifestyle factors that can reduce prostate cancer risk other than maintaining a healthy weight and eating a healthful diet.

“This study is the largest-ever of its kind which uses a relatively new method that complements current observational research to discover what causes prostate cancer. It suggests that there could be a larger effect of physical activity on prostate cancer than previously thought,” said lead study investigator Dr. Sarah Lewis, who is a Senior Lecturer in Genetic Epidemiology at Bristol Medical School, Bristol, England.

For this investigation, the researchers looked at the effect of 22 risk factors on prostate cancer, but the results for physical activity were the most striking. This new type of study that combines genetics, lifestyle and cancer risk, supports previous evidence from observational studies that being active can reduce the risk of cancer.

John Schieszer is an award-winning national journalist and radio and podcast broadcaster of The Medical Minute. He can be reached at

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John Schieszer is an award-winning national journalist and radio and podcast broadcaster of The Medical Minute.

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