DRUG TO STOP MEMORY LOSS
MEMORY LOSS: An anti-ageing drug for the brain has come a step closer
Wednesday October 13,2010
AN ANTI-ageing drug for the brain has come a step closer after an amazing breakthrough by a British team of researchers.
They have discovered that the drug can halt the process that causes frustrating memory problems as we get older.
Early tests suggest the drug can block enzymes that trigger stress hormones linked to ageing.
As we grow older, these hormones, called glucocorticoids, attack the part of the brain devoted to memory.
This leads to problems with concentration and difficulties in remembering a person’s name or where things have been put, such as keys.
Although such difficulties are a natural part of ageing and do not always lead to dementia, experts believe it may one day be possible to block this process altogether.
The latest study, funded by the Wellcome Trust, shows that a drug can block the enzyme called 11beta-HSD1 which fuels the stress hormones.
Tests on mice showed it helped them retain their memory so that they could complete a complicated maze within just 10 days of treatment. Professor Jonathan Seckl of the University of Edinburgh,where the research was carried out, said: “Normal old mice often have marked deficits in learning and memory just like some elderly people.
We found that lifelong partial deficiency of the enzyme, 11beta-HSD1, prevented memory decline with ageing. But we were very surprised to find that the blocking compound works quickly over a few days to improve memory in old mice, suggesting it might be a good treatment for the already elderly.”
The study, published yesterday in the Journal of Neuroscience, raises hopes that it might one day be possible to prevent the natural decline of the brain as we age. As other studies also raise hopes of drugs to stop the body physically ageing, it could mean people could stay both fit and mentally agile for longer.
Professor Brian Walker, who also worked on the research, said that although it was an early study, it proved the idea that blocking this enzyme might improve brain function.
Previous tests of an older drug that blocks the enzyme have already shown it improves the memory of elderly men. So scientists hope the new drug could work just as well on humans. “These results provide proof that this class of drugs could be useful to treat age-related decline in memory,” Professor Walker said.
“The next step is to conduct further studies to prove that the compound is safe to take into clinical trials, hopefully within a year.”
Dr Rick Davis, of the Wellcome Trust, said: “Developing drugs that can selectively inhibit this enzyme has been a challenge to the pharmaceutical industry for nearly 10 years.
“Advancing this compound towards clinical trials takes us a step closer to finding a drug that could have far-reaching implications as the population ages.”
The race to find drugs that can keep people healthier longer is being fuelled by the UK’s ageing population. Although only 16 per cent of the population is over 65, this is expected to increase to 23 per cent by 2034.
Of even more concern is the growing number of “oldest old”. By 2034 the number of people alive beyond 85 will soar to more than 2.5million. There are fears this will put the economy under enormous pressure.