Can Age-related Memory Loss Be Regained?

British researchers may have found the fountain of youth, well at least when it comes to memory... maybe.

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh certainly think so. Reporting in the Journal of Neuroscience, the team said an experimental compound that they’ve been studying can improve memory, as well as cognitive function, in aging mice. They hope to take the compound into human trials within a year.

With the forgetfulness, absent mindedness, and difficulty concentrating that commonly come with growing older previously shown to be related to high levels of glucocorticoids, and knowledge that the enzyme 11beta-HSD1 plays a role in the creation of these hormones and is more active in the brain as we age, the British researchers sought to determine the effects of a new synthetic compound. They learned that the studied compound selectively blocks the ability of 11beta-HSD1 to hinder mice in the completion of the Y maze memory task.

"Normal old mice often have marked deficits in learning and memory just like some elderly people,” said Jonathan Seckl, professor, University of Edinburgh, who discovered the role played by 11beta-HSD1 in the brain. We found that life-long partial deficiency of 11beta-HSD1 prevented memory decline with aging. 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.” In fact, the effects of the compound were seen after just 10 days.

“These results provide proof-of-concept that this class of drugs could be useful to treat age-related decline in memory,” added professor Brian Walker, who is leading the drug development program along with Dr. Scott Webster. “We previously showed that carbenoxolone, an old drug that blocks multiple enzymes including 11beta-HSD1, improves memory in healthy elderly men and in patients with type 2 diabetes after just a month of treatment, so we are optimistic that our new compounds will be effective in humans. The next step is to conduct further studies with our preclinical candidate to prove that the compound is safe to take into clinical trials, hopefully within a year."

With 11beta-HSD1 also implicated in such diseases as diabetes and obesity by the same research team, Dr. Rick Davis, Wellcome Trust and the Medical Research Council (which supported the study), stated, “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.”

Could the researchers have found a chemical version of the fountain of youth, at least in terms of memory? What implications could this discovery, should it be proven safe and effective in humans, have on your patients, and the human race for that matter? How would our society be different if memory was of little concern?