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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 May, 2005, 08:53 GMT 09:53 UK
'Memory pill' for the forgetful
Image of a pill
The pill improves communication between brain cells
US scientists have invented a pill that can boost memory.

The drug CX717 belongs to a family of compounds called ampakines and works by boosting the brain chemical glutamate that makes learning and recall easy.

UK trials on 16 sleep-deprived volunteers showed it improved wakefulness and mental ability.

Its creator, Dr Gary Lynch from the University of California, told New Scientist it could be used to treat jet lag and diseases like Alzheimer's.

As you get tired, communication between brain cells begins to fail. When you take the pill, the communication is better
Inventor Dr Gary Lynch

Manufacturer Cortex is considering CX717 as a possible treatment for narcolepsy - excessive daytime sleepiness; and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) - a condition which impairs a child's ability to concentrate.

It could also be taken by healthy people as a pick-me-up. But it will have to undergo further clinical trials before going on sale.

Dr Lynch explained how the drug works. "What it's doing is causing the neurons to communicate with each other a little better.

"As you get tired, communication between brain cells begins to fail. When you take the pill, the communication is better."

He said the drug appeared to have no side effects and because it was not a physical stimulant, like amphetamines, users would still be able to sleep.

Memory boost

In the UK trial, led by Julia Boyle and colleagues from the University of Surrey, healthy male volunteers aged 18 to 45 agreed to test the drug.

The volunteers started with a full night's sleep and the following morning and evening were asked to complete a battery of tests assessing memory, attention, alertness, reaction time and problem solving.

At 11pm they took either the real or dummy pills and stayed up through the night, being retested at midnight, 1am, 3am, 5am and 9am.

The volunteers who took the ampakine performed much better than those who took the fake drug.

Barbara Sahakian, Professor of Clinical Neuropsychiatry at Cambridge University in the UK, said: "There has been a lot of promise with the ampakines and people are very excited about them."

She said it could be useful for medical conditions that impaired memory and concentration, but warned against recreational use as has occurred with other stimulant drugs such as the ADHD medication Ritalin.

"I think it's something we have to be concerned about because some of those people taking these drugs, their brains are still developing and we do not know the long-term consequences."

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