Scientist Creating Vaccine for Alzheimer's Says Exercise and Stimulating Environments Help Delay Disease's Progression
We all want to age gracefully, but in the back of our minds is the fear of getting Alzheimer's disease and other dementias. Dr. Eitan Okun, who heads the Paul E. Feder Alzheimer's Research Lab at Bar-Ilan University, has seen that fear come to fruition for his father, who already suffers from dementia at age 69. This is a prime motivator for Dr. Okun as he seeks to develop a vaccine to protect people from Alzheimer's. He has already developed one that has proven effective in initial mouse studies.
In his lab, located in the Leslie and Susan Gonda (Goldschmied) Multidisciplinary Brain Research Center at Bar-Ilan University, Okun is working on a vaccine that targets the amyloid beta proteins that accumulate in the brain of people with Alzheimer's.
A Vaccine That Targets Amyloid Beta Proteins
Among the participants at "The Future of Treating Memory Decline" presentation by Dr. Eitan Okun, second from left, were, from left, Howard Charish, of AFBIU, JHF Director Melanie Cohen, JHF President Carol Silver Elliot, Englewood Hospital CEO Warren Geller, and Drs. Gary Allweis and Alexa Gottdiener
At a recent event co-sponsored by the American Friends of Bar-Ilan University (AFBIU), Englewood Hospital and the Jewish Home Family (JHF), Dr. Okun told the audience that he is now focusing his research on why people with Down syndrome are more prone to getting Alzheimer's. In doing this research, he is using mice that have been engineered to mimic Down syndrome. His vaccine stops such mice from getting the disease.
Buoyed by the success of mice studies, human studies with this vaccine will be forthcoming, according to Okun, who spoke at Englewood Hospital in New Jersey about "The Future of Treating Memory Decline: Developing a Vaccine for Alzheimer's disease."
Delaying the Progression of Alzheimer's
Until the vaccine gets approved, Okun suggested two strategies people can follow right now to delay the progression of Alzheimer's. He told the audience that physical exercise and environmental enrichment can help defer the symptoms of the disease. "Physical exercise promotes the formation of new neurons in the brain. This will keep the synapses from decreasing, which is one of the main symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. Physical exercise can be as simple as yoga and other balancing movements, and not necessarily strenuous whole-body movements," said Okun.
Dr. Okun, center, with, far right, Ronnie Stern, President of AFBIU, and Howard Charish, Chief Development Officer of AFBIU
He encourages seniors to seek out stimulating environments. "Always try to be in a learning environment. This will engage your brain in absorbing information through many channels, which will increase the connections through the dendritic spines which connect the neurons. These strong connections will keep you alert and on target."
Dr. Okun is also working in the Feder Alzheimer's Lab on ways to diagnose Alzheimer's earlier in the disease's progression, and to do it more accurately. His research is focusing on catching the earliest signs of the amyloid proteins on an MRI.