A cucumber-based vaccine that protects against Alzheimer’s disease, cat allergies and psoriasis could be in the pipeline, researchers claim.
Scientists believe they have created a ‘magic bullet’ by using a virus that normally affects the vegetable in their quest for a cure against several conditions.
They hailed the results of their trial as a breakthrough which could lead to ‘hundreds of thousands of people being spared the ravages of chronic diseases’.
The bizarre technique, proven to work on mice, is also expected to protect against many common allergies and even types of chronic pain.
Scientists at Dundee and Oxford universities used the protein coat of the cucumber mosaic virus – which can cause lumps to appear on the vegetable – for their vaccine.
It was then combined with a protein structure from the tetanus vaccine – which is already known to stimulate the immune system.
The British research team, who published their work in Nature Vaccine, say more trials are required to properly test the vaccines.
What did the results show?
But Dundee dermatologist Dr John Foerster, who co-led the research, said they had already ‘shown positive results in models of psoriasis and cat allergy’.
The vaccines can be either preventative – which is the hope for Alzheimer’s – but also therapeutic, meaning they could actually cure a disease like psoriasis.
How would it help Alzheimer’s?
In Alzheimer’s disease, a protein called beta amyloid collects in the brain and causes brain damage which results in impaired cognitive function.
Previous trials where patients were injected with antibodies against beta amyloid were unsuccessful.
However, the new study suggests that prophylactic vaccines could provide a way of offering treatment even before the disease becomes clinically apparent.
Professor Martin Bachmann, of the Jenner Institute in Oxford, said: ‘Alzheimer’s disease usually develops in elderly people.
‘The fact that the vaccine described here is optimised for old individuals seems therefore particularly helpful.’
How would it help psoriasis?
In psoriasis, a protein called Interleukin 17 needs to be active for the disease to progress, Dr Foerster added.
The vaccine, which stimulates the body to make antibodies to turn off the protein, may eventually replace expensive injections.
Present antibodies for psoriasis treatment typically need to be injected at least once a month to keep working, and cost around £10,000 per year.
The research showed the technique works in mice, specifically older ones. Many elderly humans suffer from the conditions tested.
Dr Foerster said: ‘Since many patients with chronic conditions like psoriasis are elderly this technology may work much better to obtain effective vaccines.’
The researchers are now looking to begin clinical testing of the vaccine and have already received regulatory approval to initiate testing on people.
CUCUMBER WARNING FOR WOMEN…
Women shouldn’t use a cucumber as a douche for the vagina – a trend that swept the web, doctors warned earlier this month.
Dubbed the ‘vagina facial’, the odd craze involves inserting the peeled salad staple into your intimate parts before twisting it around for about 20 minutes or longer.
Bloggers claimed the fruit’s high vitamin content sanitises your genitals and gives it a pleasant odour, and can even reduce the chances of getting sexually transmitted infections.
But an expert warned the practice could actually leave you at a greater risk of infections like gonorrhea and even HIV.
Canadian gynaecologist Dr Jen Gunter said this is because washing with a cucumber upsets the natural pH balance of your intimate bits.
Furthermore, she said that it will in fact cause a bad smell as she warned ‘if you have a vagina you should definitely not do this’.
What do the charities say?
Louise Walker, research communications officer at Alzheimer’s Society, said: ‘Alzheimer’s disease is one of the biggest health challenges facing us today.
‘There is no way at present to stop or slow the progression of the condition.
‘Therefore it is great to see researchers taking innovative approaches like this, which uses viruses to act as vaccines, to find ways to tackle the challenge.’
Dr Anjali Mahto, consultant dermatologist and British Skin Foundation spokesperson, said: ‘Whilst the results are exciting, these vaccines are a long way off from entering daily practice.
‘Human trials and safety data are needed before we can say for certain that the basic science will translate into clinically meaningful patient outcomes.’