Lowly Potato Holds Big Possibilities

Your dinner plate may hold a key piece of the Alzheimer’s puzzle

A virus that commonly infects potatoes looks a lot like one of the proteins associated with Alzheimer’s disease, according to a recent study. Researchers are using this finding to develop vaccines that could slow—or even prevent—the onset of Alzheimer’s.

Researchers have created a vaccination with a potato virus, which they hope will slow -- or even prevent -- the onset of Alzheimer's.

Researchers have created a vaccination with a potato virus, which they hope will slow—or even prevent—the onset of Alzheimer's.

Robert Friedland, M.D., professor of neurology at Case Western Reserve University, and his colleagues reported in the Journal of Biological Chemistry that testing on mice has shown vaccination with the potato virus causes the production of antibodies that might slow the progression of Alzheimer’s. The investigators propose that eating infected potatoes may cause the development of antibodies that bind to amyloid Beta protein, which collects in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. The antibodies may help to clear the protein from the brain.

Human trials of vaccination therapy have produced conflicting results, and one large study was discontinued because of autoimmune encephalitis.

The risk resulted from an inflammatory cell response to the vaccine. Researchers say that the potato virus itself, which also infects eggplant, tomatoes and peppers, poses no risk to humans and that many people likely have eaten potatoes infected with the virus.

“It is expected that oral administration of vaccines will have less chance of inflammatory complications,” says Friedland, whose work was supported by the Joseph and Florence Mandel Foundation and the Fullerton Foundation. He adds that more testing is necessary.