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article imagePotatoes May Hold Key To Alzheimer's Treatment

By Bob Ewing     Aug 17, 2008 in Health
A virus that commonly infects potatoes bears a striking resemblance to one of the key proteins implicated in Alzheimer's disease.
Researchers have found a way to use a virus that commonly infects potatoes to develop antibodies that may slow or prevent the onset of Alzheimer's Disease (AD).
The virus bears a striking resemblance to one of the key proteins implicated in Alzheimer's disease (AD).
The amyloid beta protein is believed to be a major AD contributor. Studies in mice have demonstrated that vaccinations with it produce AD antibodiescan slow disease progression and improve cognitive function, possibly by promoting the destruction of amyloid plaques.
Some early human trials have likewise been promising, but had to be halted due to the risk of autoimmune encephalitis.
Cowpox virus is used for smallpox immunizations and researchers are thinking that a similar approach to treat AD would make Alzheimer's vaccinations safer. In other words to use a closely-related, but not human, protein as the vaccine.
In the August 15 Journal of Biological Chemistry, Robert Friedland and colleagues used this concept on an amyloid-like protein found in potato virus (PVY). They injected PVY into mice followed by monthly boosters for four months.
What they found was the mice produced strong levels of antibodies that could attach to amyloid beta protein both in both solution and in tissue samples of Alzheimer's patients. And although the levels were lower, mice also developed AD antibodies if given injections of PVY-infected potato leaf as opposed to purified PVY.
Potato virus is a fairly common infection that poses no risk to humans (many people have probably eaten PVY infected potatoes). While tests of PVY antibodies will ultimately determine how useful they can be, they may be a promising lead to treating this debilitating disease.
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