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The prospect of a cure for Alzheimer’s in pill form has been raised after scientists said tests on new nerve drugs had dramatic effects.
US experts screened thousands of compounds for brain-protective properties, one of which stimulated the growth of new neurons in an area of the brain crucial to memory function.
When tested on ageing rats, the P7C3 molecule vastly improved their ability to navigate a water maze, a standard method of testing memory-dependent learning.
It also boosted brain cell generation in genetically engineered mice, according to the study in the journal Cell, while a derivative, called A20, had an even greater effect on the brain.
Researchers stressed further work is required but the findings raise the possibility of curing memory loss and age-related mental decline.
They believe the drugs prevent cells from self-destructing, a process known as apoptosis.
Thomas Insel, of the National Institute of Mental Health, which funded the study, said: “This striking demonstration of a treatment that stems age-related cognitive decline in living animals points the way to potential development of the first cures that will address the core illness process in Alzheimer’s disease.”
A key factor is that P7C3 can be swallowed rather than injected.
Copyright Press Association 2010