Rosenberg shares Alzheimer's vaccine work at symposium

By Jeff Carlton

In asking Dr. Roger Rosenberg to speak at the 46th Annual Chancellor’s Council Meeting and Symposium May 3 in Austin, UT System Chancellor Dr. Francisco G. Cigarroa recalled his days as a student at UT Southwestern Medical School.

Dr. Roger Rosenberg
Dr. Roger Rosenberg

The Chancellor reminded Dr. Rosenberg, his former neurology professor, that 30 years ago he had spent a month with his teacher on a clinical neurology rotation as a fourth-year medical student.

“He told me he remembers being in my office and discussing patients with me,” said Dr. Rosenberg, Director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Center and Professor of Neurology and Neurotherapeutics at UT Southwestern Medical Center. “In retrospect, I am so glad I passed him in the course.”

At the Chancellor’s invitation, Dr. Rosenberg delivered a Discovery Session lecture at UT Austin titled “Curing Alzheimer’s.” The Chancellor’s Council comprises individuals, foundations, and organizations that give at least $10,000 to one or more UT System institutions, or $15,000 in planned gifts. The Council has about 13,000 members in 50 states and 21 countries.

Dr. Rosenberg’s lecture focused on his laboratory’s ongoing 10-year effort at making a vaccine against beta-amyloid, a protein that forms plaques in the brain and is believed to be both a sign and a cause of Alzheimer’s disease. In animal models, the Rosenberg vaccine stimulates antibodies that bind to and eliminate beta-amyloid. The vaccine does not contain beta-amyloid itself, but instead a piece of the gene that codes for the beta-amyloid protein.

“Dr. Rosenberg’s DNA vaccine for Alzheimer’s disease is an example of translational research that could have a profound effect on one of the world’s most prevalent and devastating diseases,” Dr. Cigarroa said.

The vaccine is still in the testing phase, but Dr. Rosenberg said he is hopeful that his laboratory is on the right track.

“I am optimistic,” he said. “The results are highly supportive that the DNA vaccine has the potential to prevent or delay Alzheimer’s disease. But first we must definitively conclude the proof of principle at stake in current Alzheimer’s research: that reducing amyloid at an early phase of the disease has a clinical benefit.”

At the symposium, Dr. Rosenberg also discussed his recently published study that showed the vaccine is even more effective when given in two stages: as a peptide-prime vaccination followed by a DNA vaccination. This extra step increases antibody levels and eliminates problems with brain inflammation that derailed earlier clinical trials testing another potential Alzheimer’s vaccine. The study was published in January in the Journal of Neuroimmunology.

Other UT Southwestern researchers involved in that study included lead author Dr. Doris Lambracht-Washington, Instructor of Neurology and Neurotherapeutics; Dr. Larry Anderson, Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine; Dr. Todd Eagar, Assistant Professor of Pathology and Immunology; and Dr. Olaf Stuve, Associate Professor of Neurology and Neurotherapeutics. Former UTSW Assistant Professor of Neurology and Neurotherapeutics Dr. Bao-Xi Qu also contributed.

Dr. Rosenberg served as Chairman of Neurology from 1973 to 1991. Under his leadership, UT Southwestern established a National Institutes of Health-funded Alzheimer’s Disease Center in 1987, which he has directed ever since. In 1997, he became editor-in-chief of the Archives of Neurology, which recently was renamed JAMA Neurology.

In 2009, the World Federation of Neurology selected Dr. Rosenberg as the first recipient of its Medal for Scientific Achievement.

Dr. Rosenberg holds The Abe (Brunky), Morris and William Zale Distinguished Chair in Neurology.

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