16 October 2010

Hope for Seniors arrives in 'Memory Pill'

Daily Mail

A pill that prevents so-called ‘senior moments’ is being developed by British doctors.

Taken later in life, it could put an end to forgetting where the car keys are, or not being able to remember names.

The drug, which is aimed principally at absent-mindedness rather than brain diseases, has already been tested on animals.

It could go to human trials next year and, if these are successful, be on the market within five years.

Jonathan Seckl, who led the research at Edinburgh University, said: ‘A third of older people have what is euphemistically called mild cognitive impairment.

‘But it is a major risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease and it is also pretty frustrating if you can’t remember what you left the house to do or where you put your keys.

‘It is soul-destroying and memory clinics are full of patients who are deeply frustrated by being unable to remember things.’

Such problems are at least partially due to high levels of stress hormones, including cortisol, damaging the brain’s ‘memory hub’.

Professor Seckl has shown that an enzyme called 11beta-HSD1 boosts levels of cortisol and he created the drug to stop that happening.

Known as UOE1961, it sharpened the minds of elderly mice to such an extent that they were as good as much younger creatures at performing tests of memory and learning.

What is more, the animals were treated for only two weeks, the Journal of Neuroscience reports.

Professor Seckl, who was funded by the Wellcome Trust, said: ‘They were coming toward the end of their lifespan and had profound deficits in their ability to learn things.

‘We turned them back to being as good as young animals, which was very exciting. What that teaches us is that that sort of memory loss is not irreversible.’

It is too early to know what side-effects UOE1961 will have.

But, on the plus side, reducing levels of stress hormones is likely to be good for the heart.

It is thought the drug will work only on the ageing brain – meaning it will not help young people cram for exams.

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