My rather simplistic view of vaccines (based in part on school history projects on Edward Jenner’s use of Cow Pox to prevent Small Pox) is that you give a vaccine (the Latin for “cow” is “vacca”) as a preventative measure, to people who don’t already have the nasty disease. The vaccine is usually something similar to the microorganism that causes the nasty disease (often, these days, a weakened version of the real thing). The vaccine is weak enough for the immune system to fight off, and, in doing so, the immune system is prepared for fighting off the full-blown disease.
Currently undergoing initial human trials is a new drug that, apparently, primes the immune system to destroy alpha-synuclein. The human guinea pigs are 32 individuals with Parkinson’s, ten of whom have already received the treatment.
So… they’re not trying to prevent Parkinson’s in people deemed to be at risk (I am not sure that there are any strong risk indicators, although some forms of the condition may be genetic). They are trying to prevent the condition from getting worse – from progressing.
I’d settle for that.
Perhaps I ought to revise my idea of what a vaccine is. It could, I suppose, be defined as “something that encourages the immune system to attack a specific target”.
The drug is called PD01A, and it has been developed by an Austrian company called AFFiRiS. It is worthy of note, because older treatments for Parkinson’s are all symptomatic – that is, they treat the symptoms of the condition, not the cause. If this works, regardless of whether it’s called a vaccine or what the definition of “vaccine” is, it will be a huge breakthrough. Of course, we don’t know anything about side effects (New Scientist reports that, “The objective [of these initial trials] is to ensure the vaccine is safe”), but anything that stops Parkinson’s in its tracks would be incredibly valuable.
- Read the New Scientist article here.
- Read thePharmaLetter’s more in-depth note – but be aware that it’s one-time-only free access.
- Wikipedia entry for “vaccine”
- Oxford Dictionaries on line definition of “vaccine”: