Olive Oil May Lead to Alzheimer's Vaccine

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Don’t skimp on the olive oil in those Greek salad dressings and Italian pasta sauces. Oleocanthal gives olive oil its unique flavor, but it’s also a curative that goes back to ancient times.

Now, however, researchers know that olive oil targets and blocks toxic proteins that damage brain cells accounting for memory loss in Alzheimer’s disease.

Oleocanthal alters ADDL molecules, the neurotoxin responsible for causing the cellular and molecular changes associated with dementia.

“One in 10 people over 65 [years old] has Alzheimer’s disease,” said neurologist and nanotechnologist William Klein, a Northwestern University professor of neurobiology and physiology. He is also a researcher at the university's Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center.

William KleinWilliam KleinKlein explains that people with Alzheimer’s disease have a high number of ADDLs in their brain. Working with Paul Breslin, a sensory psychologist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia and Jason Pitt, a PhD neuroscience student at Northwestern, they found that oleocanthal is useful in protecting brain cells from ADDLs.

Their paper, published Thursday in the journal of Toxicoloy and Applied Pharmacology, shows that “ADDLs have their structure affected by olive oil. They don’t bind as well to nerve cells any more; they don’t cause the toxic pathological changes in the brain,” said Klein.

In 1998, Klein’s laboratory identified ADDLs as a major feature involved in Alzheimer’s disease.  This new type of neurotoxin attacks nerve cell synapses, which eventually leads to cell damage and memory loss.

During recent in vitro [test tube] studies, Klein's team discovered that oleocanthal made ADDLs protein size so big that it impeded ADDLs from bonding to the nerves of the brain.

They also discovered that oleocanthal made ADDLs into stronger targets for antibodies.

The significance of this study is twofold. First, a component been found that alters the main neurotoxic structure responsible for Alzheimer’s disease. Secondly, this realization could make development of a vaccine against the disease all the more feasible now that oleocanthal can better prep neurotoxins for antibodies.

Alzheimer’s disease “is a tragedy for the families who are involved, and it’s an extraordinary cost,” said Klein. “It is the third most costly disease, with an annual cost to the U.S. economy of over $150 billion. Families spend an average of $42,000 per year” to treat and care for someone with the illness.  

Klein’s results have been licensed by Northwestern University to the pharmaceutical company Acumen to develop the intellectually property for Alzheimer’s therapeutics. Acumen and Klein’s team have partnered with Merck to “develop vaccines that will get into the brain. These antibodies [being developed] will go find these ADDL molecules and neutralize them,” said Klein.

Laboratory studies have shown the potential for reversing Alzheimer's when antibodies being created by Merck were tested on mice induced with Alzheimer’s.

“These antibodies are being developed by Merck for clinical trial for humans,” said Klein. “By 2010, these antibodies will be ready for Phase I clinical trials.”

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