Millions of people worldwide experience some memory loss with age. Many of them will develop memory-related diseases of the brain, such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. There is no known cure for these diseases and those who have been diagnosed by them can only hope to slow the degenerative process down.
However, a promising research study done by medical researchers at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston discovered a gene in mice that gives them “super memories” and actually reverses the effects of mental health illnesses like Alzheimer’s.
Since mice and human brains are so similar, it is the hope of many that this discovery could lead to a brain pill for humans to fight these devastating diseases.
According to the United States Surgeon General and a 1999 report by the US Department of Health and Human Services, nearly 20 percent of the American population age 55 and older will experience specific mental disorders not associated with normal aging. Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases are included in the list of mental disorders the elderly are especially prone to. Finding a cure or treatment for these illnesses would impact the future of millions of people who currently have no hope of the recovery of their brain functions.
Researchers know that the onset of Alzheimer’s in both mice and humans causes the release of a gene called PKR. The study, published December 9, 2011 in the research journal, Cell, found the newly discovered gene can block PKR’s release, reverse the course of degenerative brain diseases, and induce a state of “super memories” in the mice that were tested on.
The research showed that when PKR is genetically suppressed in mice, another immune molecule, called gamma interferon, increases communication between neurons in the brain, thereby improving memory and making the mice’s brain function more efficiently. The gamma interferon works almost spontaneously to improve brain functions once PKR is blocked.
The mice who received the PKR-blocking injections, were able to pick up on patterns and remember them the first time.