Latimer: Could there be a memory miracle drug in our future?

As our population continues to get older, conditions associated with aging such as Alzheimer’s disease are an ever-increasing burden.

As our population continues to get older, conditions associated with aging such as Alzheimer’s disease are an ever-increasing burden on individuals, families and the health care system.

I have written before about the unfolding natural disaster of Alzheimer’s disease.

Right now there are roughly 500,000 Canadians living with Alzheimer’s and according to the Alzheimer Society, more than 103,000 Canadians develop the disease each year and the numbers are on the rise.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could discover a cure or at least a truly effective treatment to keep symptoms at bay?

As of right now there isn’t much we can do to stop or even slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. As such, it is a frightening diagnosis and many of us have watched helplessly while a loved one slowly slips into dementia.

Some new research involving American and Canadian scientists is offering a little bit of much-needed hope for a possible future treatment.

Researchers out of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston found that suppressing a molecule called PKR in the brains of mice led to improved memory function and learning abilities.

PKR was already known to act as a signal of viral infections but it also plays a role in regulating communication between neurons for memory and has a stress response.

Although viruses are one form of stress that triggers PKR, Alzheimer’s patients also release PKR and the research suppressing the molecule in mice found success improving memory and brain function.

Scientists injected an inhibitor into the stomachs of some mice and put the mice through several behavioural tests.

The mice with inhibited PKR were able to learn in one try what took the other mice several days of repetition.

It will likely be several years before this research could lead to a new treatment for humans, but it is a promising first step and certainly an area of research that should not be ignored.

Not only are millions affected around the world by this increasingly common disease, but Alzheimer’s also currently costs the global economy roughly $604 billion a year—a number expected to double every 20 years if an effective treatment is not found.

A breakthrough in treatment research that truly slows the progression of the disease could mean a 20 per cent reduction in the number of patients and overall expense. If a treatment is found that could delay onset for even five years, there is potential for a 40 per cent reduction in cost and affected individuals.

It will certainly be interesting to see how this new research unfolds for what is a very serious and growing health problem for our aging population.

Paul Latimer is a psychiatrist and president of Okanagan Clinical Trials.



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