Jack Jhamandas, a researcher with the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Alberta, sits in his office on Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012.
Credits: COURTESY PHOTO
Jack Jhamandas, a researcher at the University of Alberta, found a drug that is meant for diabetes - known as AC253 - can also return memory to brain cells.
The scientists sent shocks to brain cells from the hippocampus - the part of the brain that's responsible for learning and memory - in a dish and, with treatment, the cells remembered the shocks.
"You expose them to a barrage of electrical impulses and they actually retain a memory of that experience," he said. "The next time you shock them, they actually show a marked increase in their response, meaning they have learned from that shock."
In addition to studying cells in a dish, there are genetically-engineered mice that develop Alzheimer's disease. In the brain cells of the mice that were exposed to AC253, the memory trace can be restored to levels in normal mice of the same age.
Jhamandas said they've been on the trail for years of a relationship between abnormal proteins, called amyloids, in brains of Alzheimer's patients and a similar protein, called amylin, in the pancreas of diabetic patients.
A couple of years ago the amyloids were found to kill nerve cells in the brain responsible for learning, memory and other functions.
"It's possible to protect those cells from this type of an assault by the protein," he said.
Jhamandas said a protein like amylin is a key that opens a door and the drug works by stopping the keyhole from being unlocked.
The peer-reviewed study is published research in the Journal of Neuroscience. The study was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
Jhamandas said Alzheimer's is a complicated disease and there will not be just one treatment or one solution.
"I'm very optimistic that our findings paved the way for development of compounds and drugs that could assist in this," he said.
If the research works out, clinical trials could start in five years.