Drug for memory lapses clears preclinical hurdle

Time can dull any mind, as anyone who has experienced a 'senior moment' when they can't find their keys or remember where they parked the car can attest to. But a group of scientists in the U.K. say they have developed a new compound that can restore mental acuity, solving a complex therapeutic riddle that has challenged researchers for years. And the drug will be ready for human trials next year.

The discovery process revolves around the role of an enzyme known as 11beta-HSD1, which produces stress steroid hormones linked to absent mindedness in older people. By blocking the enzyme with a synthetic drug, the researchers found that in 10 days ailing mice treated with the therapy were able to once again complete relatively complex memory tasks.

"Normal old mice often have marked deficits in learning and memory just like some elderly people. We found that life-long partial deficiency of 11beta-HSD1 prevented memory decline with aging," says Professor Jonathan Seckl from the University of Edinburgh. "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."

A Wellcome Trust Seeding Drug Discovery award was used to complete the preclinical study. "Developing drugs that can selectively inhibit this enzyme has been a challenge to the pharmaceutical industry for nearly ten 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," says Dr. Rick Davis of the Wellcome Trust. 

- here's the Wellcome Trust release

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