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Monday, 10 April, 2000, 12:30 GMT 13:30 UK
'Memory pill' for elderly

Gene therapy could help keep mental sharpness
A gene breakthrough could lead to treatments which keep the minds of the elderly as sharp as those in younger people.

While the new treatment has only been tested so far on mice, the results suggest a human version may be worth pursuing.

And it may even give a clue to the origins of Alzheimer's Disease, say researchers at the Wolfson Institute in London.

Older people frequently lose the ability to learn and remember, but scientists believe they have identified the gene which leads to this happening.

In young people this gene aids the learning process, while in older people it does the reverse.

But by "switching off" this gene, called KVB1, researchers have been able to make older mice perform as well as their younger counterparts at learning and memory.

Dr Karl Peter Giese, leading the research in collaboration with the University of California in Los Angeles, said: "If the gene functions normally, there are difficulties in learning in old age.

Drug under test

"However, if the gene is inactive, then learning and memory in old age remain the same as in the younger years."

Now a drug which could block the action of the gene is under test.

Dr Giese said: "Now we want to use pharmacology to mimic the same effects - to test the idea we can ultimately develop a memory pill for the elderly.

"I can foresee that we will be able to improve learning and memory abilities in old age, which would have very important implications for society, because the average lifespan is increasing and we want to increase the quality of life."

The Wolfson Institute unveiled a 50m research centre described as a "new powerhouse for British bio-science" on Monday.

The new institute, part of University College London, was set up to promote collaboration between scientists from different fields and turn fundamental research into practical treatments.

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08 Mar 00 | Health
Chewing 'wards off' dementia
16 Mar 00 | Health
Memory loss 'reversed'
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