Creating a DNA Vaccine for
"As we age, there's a normal decline of cognitive function, but by age 65, about one sixth of the population exhibits the creeping dementia associated with Alzheimer's — a rate that, by 85, increases to around 50%," says Dr. Eitan Okun, a Senior Lecturer in both the Leslie and Susan Gonda (Goldschmied) Multidisciplinary Brain Research Center and the Mina and Everard Goodman Faculty of Life Sciences.
This mission of Dr. Okun and his research team is to develop medical tools to both improve the early diagnosis of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and ways to delay the onset of these diseases. He notes that if a vaccine can be developed that could delay Alzheimer's for ten years, this would allow most people to age gracefully.
"We now screen for colon and breast cancer at a given age. It is my belief that the same thing will be done for neurodegenerative disorders in years to come. This will enable us to test novel drugs at an earlier stage of the disease," says Okun.
Dr. Okun is now focusing his research on why people with Down syndrome are more prone to getting Alzheimer's. He is making strides to develop a vaccine that will prevent Alzheimer's in this high-risk group. The success of this project could lead to a general use vaccine.
Dr. Okun is also conducting research to provide a better understanding of other neurodegenerative disorders, including Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease and ischemic brain stroke.
An ardent Zionist who lives on a kibbutz with his wife and four daughters near the Gaza border, Dr. Okun says in part his research is driven by fulfilling the mitzvah of honoring the elderly — and most especially his father, who has dementia. He says, "It is my hope that by gaining a fuller understanding of what happens to our brains as we age, we will be able to help more people live fuller, more cognitively healthy lives."
To learn more about Dr. Okun's research to prevent neurodegenerative diseases,
call Howard Charish at 212-906-3900.