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CNN Today

Researchers Report Progress in Alzheimer's Vaccine

Aired July 11, 2000 - 2:00 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: It's one of the greatest health threats facing the baby boomers. Doctors predict 14 million Americans will have Alzheimer's disease before the middle of the century. That statistic may never come to pass, though, if an Alzheimer's vaccine lives up to its promise. Doctors at an Alzheimer's conference report big progress today with the vaccine, the first tested in humans.

CNN medical correspondent Rhonda Rowland has the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RHONDA ROWLAND, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The first experimental vaccine designed to fight Alzheimer's disease appears to be safe in humans, at least so far. Scientists with Elan Pharmaceuticals say their phase-one trials, designed to assess safety, are encouraging.

DR. DALE SCHENK, ELAN PHARMACEUTICALS: In the U.S., we've done single-dose studies, and they're nearly complete. And so far, things have gone remarkably well. We've not encountered any problems at all in Alzheimer's patients themselves.

ROWLAND: The vaccine, called AN-1792, is designed to stimulate the immune system to clear the characteristic brain plaques that many believe are the cause of the disease.

One year ago, Elan scientists reported dramatic results of the vaccine in mice. Those immunized at a young age were protected from Alzheimer's. In those mice who already had the disease, the disease was halted, and in some cases reversed.

DR. IVAN LIEBERBURG, ELAN CORPORATION: Assuming everything works out, this vaccine not only will treat Alzheimer's disease, but will also prevent Alzheimer's disease. It will completely change the face of Alzheimer therapeutics now and forever, if it works.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROWLAND: The vaccine is a revolutionary approach to possibly treating Alzheimer's. Currently, there are three FDA-approved drugs that treat just the symptoms. They may help with memory and reduce agitation in the early stages of the disease. The vaccine, however, is designed to go after the root cause of the disease and change its course, by halting or reversing the brain damage. Therefore, eventually, patients may be able to avoid the severe dementia and behavioral changes -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Rhonda, for people who are excited about this and eager to get it to their loved one, what can they expect?

ROWLAND: Well, certainly, researchers do not want to raise false hopes at this point. And they want everyone to know that there is still a long road ahead. We still have to complete the safety trials, and then they need to go into larger studies, with more people at more medical institutions, to see if the vaccine actually works. It's going to be another year or two before we have any idea if it does. And there are still a few years after that to continue the studies and go through the FDA approval process, if all goes well. If all does go well, perhaps, there could be something available in, say, three to five years.

PHILLIPS: Was there any evidence now that the vaccine can improve memory?

ROWLAND: Well, in this particular safety trial, it is too early, it is too small to pick up any kind of changes. However, two independent research teams here at the meeting reported that when they used same the vaccine on mice, they were able to see behavioral changes, and they were able to see some changes in the mice with their thinking abilities.

So everybody is very encouraged by that, because, before that, Elan was just able to see the changes in the brain. So now they are also seeing behavioral changes in mice and they hope to see the same thing, of course, in humans -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Great news. Rhonda Rowland, thanks so much.

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