Researchers at the University of Texas (UT) Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas have discovered a chemical compound that helps protect new brain cells while they develop into maturity. Their findings were reported in the July 9 issue of Cell.
Their findings have the potential to be a breakthrough in the future treatment of degenerative brain diseases like Alzheimer's, and although it may not help the 5.3 million Americans who currently suffer from the disease their research could be critical to the future treatment of Alzheimer's.
Their research was funded by a $2.5 million National Institutes of Health Director's Pioneer awarded to Dr. Steven McKnight, chairman of biochemistry at UT and lead author of the study.
During their research they tested 1,000 chemical compounds in mice to find one that would aid in neurogenesis, in which a neuron develops from birth to maturity. They discovered eight compounds that had the ability to make neurons grow.
Following further computer analysis they narrowed it down to one compound, known as P7C3, that has the ability to be developed into a drug.
In mice, P7C3, which has a neuroprotective mechanism, helped newborn neurons survive a stage in which 60 to 70 percent would normally die.
The P7C3 does not help to create more neurons but the research found that it does protect new neurons as they mature into the hippocampus area of the brain, crucial to learning and memory. The older mice that were given a daily injection of the compound were able to continue learning and retain memories.
It is hoped that this will help stop the progressive deterioration associated with the last stages of Alzheimer's, including losing the ability to walk, talk and even swallow.
The team is hoping that P7C3, or a similar chemical compound, will be able to assist in the treatment of neuro-degenerative diseases like Alzheimer's, or simply protect the brain from deteriorating with age.
“This neuroprotective compound called P7C3, holds special promise because of its medication-friendly properties,” said Dr. McKnight. “It can be taken orally, crosses the brain-blood barrier with long-lasting effects and is safely tolerated by mice during many stages of development,” McKnight continued.
Although the researchers don't know yet whether P7C3 can block the death of mature cells which is what occurs in humans, they are continuing to investigate how the compound protects cells and how it can help any other degenerative diseases.