Scientists working on chronic stress vax

Stanford scientists may be on the verge of a vaccine to combat chronic stress. For 30 years, Dr. Robert Sapolsky, a neuroscience professor at Stanford, has been studying stress, and now he and his team are starting to see the fruits of their labor--a genetic therapy that can prevent the struggles of life from wrecking brain and body, according to a report in Wired.

Chronic stress is linked to a range of conditions and diseases, including diabetes and heart attacks, the Daily Mail reports. Sapolsky, who has been studying hormones called glucocorticoids, first noted the damage caused by stress on animals in Kenya. When a person experiences stress, a tiny circuit in the base of their brain triggers the release of glucocorticoids, thus putting the body in a heightened state of alert. But glucocorticoids can linger in the bloodstream, leading to damage. This also can prove toxic to the brain, slowing the production of new neurons, according to Wired.

But Sapolsky's team has adapted a herpes virus--a good candidate because it's able to slip easily into brain cells--to carry engineered neuroprotective genes into the brain and neutralize the hormones. And this approach has yielded success rats; those given the herpes treatment were able to stave off practically all cell loss, while control rats lost nearly 40 percent of neurons in a given region.

"To be honest, I'm still amazed that it works," Sapolsky tells Wired. "It's not going to help anybody soon"--human trials are years away--"but we've proved that it's possible. We can reduce the neural damage caused by stress."

- get more from CBS news
- see the Daily Mail's account
- read the Wired report