A group of scientists from University of California-Irvine found that a common cancer drug may restore the ability to make new memories in dementia and Alzheimer’s patients. The two neurodegenerative disease can lead to total memory loss and greatly impair motor function of patients.
Researchers said that RGFP966, a drug used to treat cancer relapse, was proven effective in alleviating memory issues caused by the two diseases. RGFP966 blocks cancerous tumors from spreading by inhibiting the genes that convert normal, healthy cells into cancerous ones.
The drug also helps neurons to become more flexible and better communicate with other brain cells. This health benefit also boosted memory in lab animals with memory issues. Alzheimer’s and dementia often result in mass death of brain cells since connections between the cells which transport messages from one neuron to another are weakened by the diseases.
Dr. Kasia M. Bieszczad of UC’s Department of Neurobiology and Behavior and lead author of the study explained that Alzheimer’s patients in an advanced stage of the condition can no longer create memories or have a poor memory overall.
To date, there isn’t a cure for memory loss in Alzheimer’s patients. But a mouse study showed that the animals’ memory improved with help from the cancer drug. Bieszczad and fellow researchers administered the drug to laboratory rats affected by dementia.
The drug helped rats retain more data, be more receptive to new information and sounds, and create new brain connections that stored fresh memories in the brain. Rats were trained to listen to a sound if they wanted a award. The group that were given the drug responded to the sound more often than the control group.
Rats that were given the cancer drug were more attentive to new sounds they heard during training than their peers that didn’t take the drug. Researchers believe that this is a sign that the drug allowed them to process and remember more sounds accurately. These functions are essential to human speech and word recognition.
The newly restored ability to process sounds helped the animals’ brains create new connections between brain cells which greatly helped in restoring their long-term memory.
Scientists hope that the drug can ‘rewire’ the brain, prevent neurons from dying and synapses from collapsing, thus leading to a rich memory even in the most advanced stages of the disease.
The drug could also help people that lost their speech because of an accident or need an implant to cure hearing loss.
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