Jenson Mak | Vitality & Healthy Ageing Blog

Dr. Jenson Mak covers the best of living a vital and healthy life at any age.

Tag: dementia

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Antibodies May Protect Brains From Age

Recent research suggests that old blood may have a negative impact on the body by damaging organs and increasing the effects of aging. A newly developed compound shows promise in protecting against this, by preventing aging in the brains of mice.

 

Initial Studies

 

The link between blood and aging was first discovered during experiments that connected young and old mice so that circulating blood was shared between them. The older mice showed improvements, including developing healthier organs and gaining protection from age-related diseases. However, the younger mice showed signs of premature aging.

 

Experiments like this suggest that young blood has restorative properties, but something in older blood causes harm. Hanadie Yousef at Stanford University appears to have isolated a protein responsible for some of the damage caused by older blood, and developed a potential way to prevent it.

 

The VCAM1 Protein

 

Yousef discovered that a protein called VCAM1 increases in the blood as the body ages. The levels of VCAM1 are 30 percent higher in individuals over 65 compared to those under 25. Yousef tested the effects of the protein by injecting blood plasma from older mice into young mice; as expected, the young mice showed signs of aging. She then repeated the experiments using blood plasma from humans in their late 60s. Again, the young mice showed signs of premature aging after injections of older blood.

 

The effects of aging were prevented during experiments where Yousef also injected a compound to block VCAM1. Young mice given the antibody at the same time or before an injection of older blood were protected from the negative effects. Yousef hopes that this research will contribute to an understanding of the way mechanisms that cause aging work and how to reverse them in order to encourage healthy aging.

 

Surprising Results

 

Other researchers are impressed with the findings, but interested in seeing more data and replicated results. Jonathan Godbout at Ohio State University expressed cautious optimism about the work leading to a possible treatment to protect aging brains.

 

Some teams have started giving plasma donated by young people to older adults, to find out if it will impact their health or possibly lessen the effect of Alzheimer’s disease. Although this is a start, neutralizing the effects of the older blood is likely to give the best chance for success.

 

Protect Against Old Blood
Yousef says a drug to protect people from the damaging effects of old blood would be more effective than plasma injections. It would be safer, less expensive, and easier to produce on a wide scale than transfusions. She is in the process of patenting her compound and hopes to develop an effective treatment against the effects old blood on aging.

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Researchers Will Study Alzheimer’s Disease Thanks To $12.2 Million Grant

Researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Pennsylvania State University have recently been awarded a grant by the National Institute of Health in order to continue studies on Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. It is a five-year, $12.2 million grant, and the size of this grant make sense when you consider how many people are affected by Alzheimer’s. There are currently over five million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease. Because baby boomers are aging, that number is projected to double by 2040.

 

The research will be conducted by scientists at the Einstein Aging Study in collaboration with experts at Pennsylvania State University. In the study, senior citizens will be given smartphones on which they’ll be presented with questions testing their thinking ability. The researchers hope that the way participants answer these questions will measure the cognitive changes that precede the beginning of dementia.

 

According to Richard B. Lipton, M.D., a professor and vice chair of neurology at Einstein and Montefiore, the research will look at risk factors for cognitive decline that can be corrected, such as pain, stress, poor sleep and vascular disease. Lipton is also a co-principal investigator on the grant. He states that by finding a link between specific risk factors and cognitive decline in the study’s participants, the researchers aim to develop customized interventions that can prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s.

 

Martin J. Sliwinski, Ph.D., another co-principal investigator on the grants, stated that the subtle changes in the brain that occur before Alzheimer’s are not well understood and are difficult to track using the typical cognitive evaluations, which occur one time and in person. Sliwinski pointed out that Alzheimer’s disease is usually diagnosed after several years of cognitive decline.

 

Accurate data from the study will give insight into the disease’s natural progression and shed light on the way this varies between individuals. It will also help evaluate the effectiveness of existing treatments.

 

The participants will be 500 people over the age of 70 in the Bronx. They will be given customized smartphones which will ask them multiple times a day to record personal assessments on a number of measures. The participants will also play a number of short matching and memory games. The researchers will then be able to average multiple measurements in order to more accurately assess an individual cognitive status and individual sense of well-being. This will occur over a period of 14 days so that the researchers can track changes over time.

 

Sleep patterns and activity will also be measured by fitness trackers that participants will be required to wear. There will also be monitors to measure heart rate, and some participants will have MRIs taken of their brains to help researchers assess a number of cranial regions, including the hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with memory.

 

Since 1992, Dr. Lipton has been leading the Einstein Aging Study, focusing on normal aging, mild cognitive impairment, the aging brain, Alzheimer’s disease and other disorders that cause dementia. The study involves an interdisciplinary team of neurologists, neuropathologists, neuropsychologists, neurochemists, social workers and other professionals in the healthcare field.

 

Over three decades, the study has served at a resource for Alzheimer’s disease research both nationally and globally. Thanks to the new NIH funding, investigators will be able to expand their research by collaborating with experts at Penn State and using the new mobile phone-based approach. The grant could make a huge difference in the advancement of our understanding of preclinical states of dementia and Alzheimer’s.

 

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Weight and Dementia

When it comes to weight, we all know that a physical injury, emotional turmoil, a change in metabolism with age, or a sedentary lifestyle are just some of the ways that a person can go from having a BMI (Body Mass Index) in the normal range to having one in the overweight range before we even realise it. It’s not just those who make poor choices, have issues with impulse control, or are ill-educated about nutrition that can end up packing on the pounds, it can happen to any of us.

But if we stop paying attention -or never paid attention to begin with- once you have gained the weight there are serious consequences to keeping that weight on over time. Obviously there are common side-effects like diabetes and heart disease, but now there has been a study published in the journal Neurology by the American Academy of Neurology that shows gaining and keeping the weight on may actually speed up dementia or other forms of cognitive decline.

Conducted by Dr Maxime Cournot of Toulouse University Hospital in France, more than 2,000 people between the ages of 32 and 62 sat for four different cognitive tests in 1996 and then took the tests again in 2001.

Those with a BMI of 20 (which is considered to be in the healthy range) remembered an average of 9 out of 16 words in a language test, or an average of 56% of the vocabulary. Results from participants with a BMI of 30 (in the range of obese) remembered 7 out of 16 words on average, or only 44% of the vocabulary. The majority of the participants who gained weight between the first and second rounds of tests did not show much change in cognitive function, but those who had a high BMI before the first test and kept the weight on in the years between the first and second test showed higher levels of what Dr Cournot described as “cognitive decline”.

According to the World Health Organisation, BMI is calculated by multiplying your height in meters by itself, and then dividing your weight in kilogrammes by the value calculated by doubling your height. A BMI of 18.5 or less is considered underweight. Normal ranges from 18.5 to 24.9, overweight from 25 to 29.9, and obese is BMI 30.0 and above. While there are some limitations to body mass index calculations, and the method has received some criticism, it is the still the only accessible and consistent tool in use for physicians.
While this research is new and shows correlation rather than causation, and more research needs to be conducted, there are several hypotheses put forward by Dr. Cournot as to the potential cause of these findings. One being that the hormones secreted from fats could have a damaging effect on cerebral cells, resulting in decreased brain function. She also mentioned that insulin resistance could have some connection to lessened cognitive activity. “Another explanation could be that since obesity is a widely known cardiovascular risk factor, due to the thickening and hardening of the blood vessels, that the same happens with the arteries in the brain,” she said.

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Seniors & Exercise, How Long, How Often, How Much?

We all know that fitness is one of the major keys to staying active, healthy, happy, and full of vitality as you age. But seniors also need to take into account that injury from overexertion or exercise too strenuous can lead to serious complications or much longer healing times as you age.

A large health study suggests that the elderly can benefit from as little as 15 minutes per day of moderately heart-pumping exercise. (Though 30 minutes minimum is recommended.) An active fitness routine can help everything from balance and strength, to delaying the onset of heart disease and dementia. It can reduce depression, prevent diabetes, delay or prevent osteoporosis, and reduce occurrences of breast and colon cancer.

So what kind of exercise should you do? For how long? And how often?

There are three main types of exercise, aerobic/endurance-building, weight training, and stretching.

Endurance building exercises are activities like walking, swimming, dancing, or anything else that gets your heart rate up and increases circulation falls into this category. This includes chores like shovelling snow, walking the dog, raking leaves, or mowing the lawn, as long as you do it at a pace that gets your heart pumping! Increased activity that ups your heart-rate is the number one most important element for mood, weight, and cardiac benefits.

Weight training doesn’t need to mean lifting weights like a bodybuilder, although lifting weights is really good for muscle health and can counteract the muscle loss that comes along with old age. It also ups your metabolism, which helps keep your weight and blood sugar in check! Physical labour chores can be part of a weight-building regimen, as can exercise that uses your own body-weight, like push-ups, lunges, arm-circles, and sit-ups. Yoga and pilates are great ways to incorporate muscle-building into your routine.

Stretching exercises help maintain flexibility, increase balance, and help prevent injury. It’s important to include stretching with any exercise you do, because it helps prevent you from over-exerting muscles during exercise. They can also help with old injuries, back pain, headaches, and other recurring symptoms. Stretching will keep you active, reduce tension, and keep your mobility at it’s peak!

The length of time you devote to fitness daily will depend -at first- on your current fitness level. For moderate activity (working hard enough that it’s difficult to talk, but not so hard that it’s impossible), the ideal is a 30 minute workout. But consistency is more important than overworking yourself, so if you haven’t been very active until now, you might want to build up to 30 minutes over time, start with as little as 5 minutes, if you need too. Listen to your body!

A large health study in Taiwan followed about 416,000 people for an average of eight years and discovered that people who exercised just 15 minutes a day reduced their mortality from all causes by 14 per cent and increased their life expectancy by three years.

The frequency of exercise is your key to seeing long-term health benefits, so you should be trying to get some activity into your routine every day, or nearly every day. Consistency is the key to building stamina, muscle, and seeing those great health benefits.

At least twice a week your schedule should include muscle-building, and every other day should include aerobic activity. Stretching is best if it happens as part of your cool-down after working out, or first thing every morning. If 30 minutes every day doesn’t fit into your schedule, you can try dividing your time up differently, such as doing an hour and fourty-five minutes of activity every Saturday and Sunday and none during the week. Also keep in mind that 30 minutes a day can happen in three 10-minute installments, or two 15-minute sessions, if you’re busy or worried about overworking yourself.

However you set your goals, make sure you can accomplish them, and remember to always take a break if you need one! A few days off every week to relax and recuperate is better than doing damage by pushing too hard, and it’s also better than setting yourself goals that you won’t follow through on. Any activity is better than none!

Vigorous exercise carries risks that people should discuss with a doctor. You should always check with your doctor before starting a new exercise programme, especially if you have any of the following risk factors:

  • A symptom you have never told your doctor about
  • Arthritis of the hips or knees
  • Blood clots
  • Chest pain
  • Chronic lung disease
  • Diabetes
  • Eye injury or recent eye surgery
  • Family history of a cardiovascular disease
  • Foot or ankle sores that won’t heal
  • Heart disease
  • Heart palpitations
  • Hernia
  • High blood pressure
  • History of smoking
  • Infections
  • Joint swelling
  • Obesity
  • Pain or trouble walking after a fall
  • Shortness of breath
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Global Population Ageing Means Singapore needs 30,000 More Health Workers

First, the good news. As we progress through the 21st century, gains in nutrition, medicine, and health mean that human beings are living far longer than ever before. This means that as we continue to advance into the 21st century, more and more health workers specialising in geriatric care will be needed. Why? Because despite the fact that so many people are now living well into their senior years, not enough are doing so with vitality. Living more years unfortunately does not translate into healthy ageing for everybody. Longer living means living with chronic illnesses, dementia, and disability created by the loss of mobility, vision, and hearing. These issues will in turn lead to increased expenses and strain on existing support services.

These concerns about an upcoming epidemic of senior health problems aren’t only going to be affecting certain parts of the world. Singapore will also be experiencing this senior health crunch, and residents of all ages may be exposed to it in less than a decade. At the National Seminar on Productivity in Healthcare earlier this month, keynote speaker Health Minister Gan Kim Yong warned that in order to insure healthy aging for its elder population, Singapore needs to see an influx of 30,000 healthcare workers over the next three years. Specialists in geriatric medicine and nurses with experience in supervising clinics will especially be in demand.

Singapore has built six new health care clinics to accommodate this need for increased medical care, and in addition to creating bed space in public hospitals for thousands of new patients, it’s estimated that almost 10,000 more patients will be seeking treatment at smaller community hospitals and nursing homes. Almost another 8,000 Singapore residents will be seeking care within their homes and day-use facilities. And in addition to a need for specialists to facilitate healthy ageing, the demand for specialists in palliative (end of life) care is expected to be on the rise as well.

While this would seem like a wonderful opportunity out there for students and health care workers in other positions, Singapore’s labour market is already experiencing a shortage of qualified workers to insure the continuing vitality of Singapore’s ageing population. And as elsewhere in the developed world, household sizes are shrinking, meaning that there will be fewer family members to assist with elder care. To combat this, Gan indicated that the government would be taking a “community” approach to geriatric care. For example, “assisted living programmes ” currently popular in the United States and Europe will be expanded in Singapore. With assisted living, seniors are able to remain in their own homes and live independently, with help from relatives and caregivers. Research shows that seniors in such an arrangement are mentally sharper and have fewer physical health problems than those in more geriatric care settings. Gan also said current nurses nearing retirement age will be encouraged to extend working both to train new caregivers and to help seniors adjust to community living programmes .

And in addition to increased emphasis on these new initiatives, Gan said the government would place new emphasis on geriatric nursing training with new programming to accommodate these new waves of Singapore residents.

Keeping Your Brain Agile with Music

pexels-photo-144026You may not be considered one of the professional performers out there. But that doesn’t mean you don’t benefit from learning the way to play musical instruments. Music will always be an exciting and enthralling experience, and later on, you will realise that playing it is a great mental workout.

Even more specifically, learning a musical instrument can improve mental function in the elderly, and prevent cognitive decline.

A great example here is Keith Richards, who is still often seen performing despite his advancing age. He is among those who have survived a rock n roll lifestyle, drugs and alcohol, and is still vital, passionate, and performing at the age of seventy-three. The impressive thing is that he still prances around onstage and holds his own with other artists who are much younger.

It is no mystery why artists like Keith Richards are heading to the road of healthy aging. And he’s not the only one: Bo Diddly played the blues until he was seventy-eight. It’s associated with the fact that they give their brains a fantastic workout by way of playing a musical instrument. Learning and playing a musical instrument is considered by neuroscientists as something that is incredibly beneficial at any age. It causes a symphony of neural fireworks, and is one of the best things you can do for your brain: “People with more musical training responded faster than those with little or no training, with no loss in accuracy. “This result suggests that higher levels of musical training might result in more efficient information processing in general,” the researchers write. In addition, “higher levels of musical practise were also associated with a better engagement of cognitive control processes, as indicated by more efficient error and conflict detection,” the researchers report. Participants who had spent more quality time with their instruments had “a better ability to detect errors and conflicts, and a reduced reactiveness to these detected problems.”

According to research, the midline structure called corpus callosum connects both sides of the brain and integrates the sensory, cognitive information, and motor skills between the cerebral hemispheres. This area has been found to be bigger in most musicians.

Neuroscientists also suggest learning musical instruments in bolstering and exercising the brain, which provides limitless pro-age health benefits. Some may have felt the urge to play the guitar or piano as they grew older. This might not just be wishful thinking, it may actually be due to the neural networks in the brain, begging them to find a way to activate it again. Through learning a new instrument, one can activate neurons that are hard to activate elsewhere in life, helping to keep the pathways in the brain healthy and connected.

Healthy ageing research suggests that wellness is linked to the brain, and a healthy brain can add years to life, even without other changes. It is through experience and education that people develop a refined neural network in the brain, and by activating the networks with lessons, and keeping them maintained or even developing them further via practise, the brain can keep performing well.

The old adage still remains true today, “use it or lose it”. This is just as much true of the brain as anywhere else. Neural pathways that go unused begin to decline, leading to degeneration, cognitive impairment, or dementia.

Even if it’s after your retirement, it’s not too late! You can still make significant progress, and derive intense satisfaction and pleasure from it. More effort will be involved, as learning new things doesn’t happen quickly or easily, just like in the early years in life. That is exactly what makes it more meaningful and more challenging. For vitality and brain agility, turn your attention to musical instruments!

Consortium Uses Tiny Worms To Screen For Anti-Aging Chemicals

Caenorhabditis_elegans_hermaphrodite_adult-en.svgThere is currently a large need for pharmaceuticals that can combat age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and Huntington’s disease. Doctors at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging are trying to fill this niche. The team is working to identify chemicals that can improve lifespan in a number of organisms. These chemicals may one day become incorporated in an anti-aging drug in the future.

The Buck Institute’s researchers are working with teams led by Monica Driscoll, Ph.D. at Rutgers University, and Patrick Phillip, Ph.D., at the University of Oregon. The team is working together in the Caenorhabditis Intervention Testing Programme (CITP), a consortium funded by the National Institute on Aging. Researchers in the consortium are using a number of strains and species of the roundworm Caenorhabditis to find chemical agents that can delay aging effects across a number of organisms with varied genetic backgrounds.

The processes associated with aging are very complex and are most likely informed by an individual’s genes. CITP hopes that if scientists can detect agents that show effects in a variety of organisms with different genetic backgrounds, those agents may have a high likelihood of being effective in humans, too. Roundworms are ideal for screening chemicals affecting lifespan in a short amount of time because they only live about three weeks.

Researchers at the Buck Institute used three stains each of the roundworms C. briggsae and C. elegans in order to test a series of ten compounds that have shown increased longevity in other organisms such as C. elegans. Most of the chemicals that had been previously studied were shown to extend lifespan in the laboratory-adapted N2 strain of C. elegans. The researchers did not yet know how these chemicals would behave in wild strains of C. elegans or C. briggsae.

The research showed that a number of the compounds did increase longevity in the C. elegans strains, while others only showed these effects in the N2 C. elegans strain. However, the compound Thioflavin T lengthened lifespan in every organism tested. It was also extremely potent, with at least one of the strains consistently showing a doubling of lifespan.

Thioflavin T is a dye that is commonly used in laboratories. It binds to toxic protein aggregates called amyloid plaques. These plaques are found in the brains of people who have Alzheimer’s disease. Buck Institute researchers had previously published results stating that the lifespan of one strain of C. elegans could be extended by Thioflavin T. The study also stated that Thioflavin T is likely to work by allowing the organisms to maintain proper transport, folding, expression, and clearance of proteins.

The CITP has created a stronger scientific process by bringing together multiple institutions and allowing these researchers to validate each other’s work. The Buck Institute team recently analysed the results as a whole and found the the three CITP study sites did a good job of reproducing each other’s data. However, analysis of the individual experiments at any given site shows that there is high variation from experiment to experiment. The experiments still need to be replicated in a large variety of organisms to ensure the anti-aging effects of these chemicals.

According to lead author Mark Lucanic, Ph.D., the researchers hope that the chemicals that have promising effects can be tested in vertebrates in the future. If the chemicals are effective in vertebrates, they may be the basis of drugs that can combat age-related illnesses in humans. This could be a huge step for anti-aging and the prevention of diseases associated with aging.

Smell Test May Be Able To Predict Alzheimer’s

24445365953_a0299f6fce_bCan a smell test predict Alzheimer’s? According to research conducted at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC), New York State Psychiatric Institute, and NewYork-Presbyterian, it just might. When aging people take an odour identification test, their inability to detect odours may correlate to a cognitive decline and early-stage Alzheimer’s disease.

The two studies that point to this idea were presented at the Alzheimer’s Association’s International Conference in Toronto, Canada. These studies show that the University of Pennsylvania Smell Identification Test, also known as UPSIT, may work as a practical and affordable alternative to other Alzheimer’s early-detection tests.

In one of the studies, UPSIT was administered to 397 older adults who had an average age of 80 years. The 397 people were from a multiethnic population in northern Manhattan, and none of them had dementia at the time of the experiment. Each participant was given an MRI scan and the thickness of the entorhinal cortex was measured. This is the area of the brain that is first affected when a person gets Alzheimer’s disease.

The researchers checked in with the participants four years later, at which time 50 participants had developed dementia. This made up 12.6 per cent of the participants. Almost 20 per cent of the participants showed signs of cognitive decline.

The study found that low UPSIT scores, an indication of a decreased ability to identify odours correctly, had a significant association with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Entorhinal cortical thickness, however, was not associated with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Cognitive decline was also predicted by low UPSIT scores, but not entorhinal cortical thickness. Entorhinal cortical thickness was, however, significantly associated with UPSIT score of participants who transitioned to dementia.

The study ultimately showed that impairment in odour identification, and to a lesser degree, entorhinal cortical thickness, can help predict the transition to dementia. The findings suggest that perhaps odour identification impairment precedes thinning of the entorhinal cortex in those who are in the early clinical stage of Alzheimer’s.

In the second study, researchers at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) assessed how useful UPSIT and tests that measure the level of amyloid in the brain are in predicting memory decline. The reason a test for amyloid was used is because large amounts of this protein can form plaques in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. The participants in this study were 84 older adults with a median age of 71 years. The researchers administered UPSIT to the participants, and also either preformed beta amyloid PET scanning or analysed the cerebrospinal fluid. It was found that 58 of these participants had mild cognitive impairment. The researchers then kept track of these participants for at least six months.

Upon following up with the participants, the researchers found that 67 per cent of the participants had signs of a declining memory. Testing positive for amyloid through either of the two methods predicted cognitive decline. UPSIT scores did not, but participants who had a score of less than 35 were over three times as likely to have declines in memory as those who have higher UPSIT scores. The research ultimately suggests that both UPSIT scores and amyloid states could predict a decline in memory, but further research is needed.

The current methods for finding Alzheimer’s are only able to clinically detect the disease in its later stages of development, at which point significant brain damage has already occurred. If the UPSIT test or analysis of amyloid plaques could be used to predict Alzheimer’s, this would be a huge breakthrough in Alzheimer’s detection.

A Vaccine for Alzheimer’s Disease?

the-syringe-1291129_1920As we find more ways of living healthier and longer, and we research more ways of healing diseases that were previously terminal, we find that Alzheimer’s disease is becoming more and more prevalent. There were more than 48 million cases of dementia in 2015, and it is stepping into the forefront as one of the biggest costs to health care systems worldwide.  The WHO projected the total global cost of care related to dential and Alzheimer’s at more than $US600 billion a year. In South Australia alone, nearly 160 are diagnosed with dementia each week.

 

But we may see all of that changing, thanks to research being developed in partnership between Flinders University’s School of Medicine, and researchers in the U.S. The first ever vaccine formulation to prevent Alzheimer’s is getting close to being a reality, thanks to a breakthrough in research that successfully targets the abnormal proteins that trigger Alzheimer’s.

 

With more testing and research, it is believed that this could be used to prevent the disease, but may also be able to treat the millions of people already diagnosed as well. Professor Nikolai Petrovsky, from Flinders University’s School of Medicine, said the findings could be lifesaving.

 

“If we are successful in clinical trials, in three to five years we could be well on the way to one of the most important developments in recent medical history,” he said. “Along with our rapidly ageing populations, we now know that the explosion in type 2 diabetes in the West is likely to further dramatically fuel the projected rise in the number of cases of dementia globally, with diabetes being the major risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.”

 

The scale of dementia diagnoses is so widespread the US National Institutes of Health have seen an extra $US350 million in funding to help combat it. The protein they believe will be able to be used as a vaccine platform is called MultiTEP, and targets aberrant forms of AB and tau proteins, which as said above is the hallmark trigger of Alzheimer’s disease.

 

While currently in pre-clinical studies with more work to do to ensure safety, researchers are eager to test the immunogenicity and efficacy of this potential cure in human trials as soon as possible. “This study suggests that we can immunise patients at the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, or even healthy people at risk for Alzheimer’s disease, using our anti-amyloid-beta vaccine, and, if the disease progresses, then vaccinate with another anti-tau vaccine to increase effectiveness,”

 

Professor Petrovsky is the director of SA vaccine research company Vaxine Pty Ltd, which produced the first swine flu vaccine during the 2009 pandemic and is currently on the forefront of Zika and Ebola research as well. The research findings, reported in Nature’s Scientific Reports journal, are the result of a collaboration between Petrovsky’s team based out of  Flinders and US researchers at the Institute for Molecular Medicine and University of California, Irvine.

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