Soon, drug to stop memory loss

Washington: Scottish researchers have come up with a new treatment, which could be used to improve memory and mental performance in older people.

Scientists at the University of Edinburgh say that a new experimental compound can improve memory and cognitive function in ageing mice.

The team has identified a preclinical candidate that they hope to take into human trials within a year.

Many people find they become more forgetful as they get older and it is generally accepted as a natural part of the ageing process. Absent mindedness and a difficulty to
concentrate are not uncommon, it takes longer to recall a person``s name, and we can``t remember where we left the car keys. These can all be early signs of the onset of dementia, but for most of us it``s just part of getting old.

Such memory loss has been linked with high levels of ``stress`` steroid hormones known as glucocorticoids, which have a deleterious effect on the part of the brain that helps us to remember. An enzyme called 11beta-HSD1 is involved in making these hormones and has been shown to be more active in the brain during ageing.

In a study the team reports the effects of a new synthetic compound that selectively blocks 11beta-HSD1 on the ability of mice to complete a memory task, called the Y maze.

Professor Jonathan Seckl from the University of Edinburgh, who discovered the role of 11beta-HSD1 in the brain, described the findings: "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 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 effects were seen after only 10 days of treatment.

The study has been published in the Journal of Neuroscience.