Multitasker: A new cancer drug may be able to fight Alzheimer’s.

Multitasker: A new cancer drug may be able to fight Alzheimer’s.

A new study found a medicine intended for cancer treatment demonstrated unexpected effects on dementia.

Talk about a mighty drug.  New research has found that RGFP966 may help the brain develop new connections.

As the Apex Tribune reports, scientists at Rutgers University were studying RGFP966, a Histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitor commonly included in cancer treatments.  RGFP966 was developed to successfully prevent certain genes that turn normal cells into cancer cells from activating.  Now, however, that property may be put to use for dementia treatments.

Alzheimer’s is a devastating disease in which the cells in the brain shrink and wither.  As they die, the synapses between cells in the brain, which are responsible for transmitting all information, also fade, and the brain’s memory and function are slowly destroyed.  While current treatments can slow the progression of Alzheimer’s, no cure exists and certainly no one has found a way to make the brain cells regrow.

However, the researchers at Rutgers are now positing that RGFP966 may help strengthen neuronal connections.  As the Oracle Reporter explained, in the study rats were taught to listen to a specific sound and respond to hearing it in order to receive a reward.  One group of rats, the ones injected with RGFP966, responded to the sound at a greater rate than those who did not receive the drug.

The medicated rats also demonstrated an increased rate of being attuned to noises around them and seemed to pick up on the patterns of sound more quickly than their counterparts.  In essence, their brains performed better than the control group’s.

These results led the scientists to posit that RGFP966 may actually help strengthen neuronal connections.  As the rats’ brains were more quickly attuned to the sound, a human brain may be able to reorganize and create new neuronal pathways in response to stimuli, in essence, rebuilding itself.

The study has enormous health implications for a variety of populations.  First, of course, the idea of strengthening and building connections is a tantalizing idea when it comes to Alzheimer’s treatment.  A drug that could in essence reverse the effect of Alzheimer’s and dementia by creating new brain connections instead of allowing them to be destroyed could be a game-changer for accepted treatment, which currently focuses on retaining old memories, not making new ones.

The other implications come from the nature of the drug’s work.  RGFP966 seemed to affect the part of the brain attuned to the outside world, especially sound.  The rats seemed to become more clued in to noise and the nuances and patterns of the noise.  The fact that their brain actually became more sensitive indicates that it could be used for a variety of purposes, both health-wise and even everyday.

Kasia M. Bieszczad, lead author of the study and assistant professor of Behavioral and Systems Neuroscience at Rutger’s Department of Psychology, wrote about potential uses in a press release.

“People learning to speak again after a disease or injury as well as those undergoing cochlear implantation to reverse previous deafness, may be helped by this type of therapeutic treatment in the future,” she wrote as quoted by the University Herald.  “The application could even extend to people with delayed language learning abilities or people trying to learn a second language.”

The other aspect of the drug was that it increased the receivers’ attention to detail.  The rats were in essence being given a bigger picture of the world by picking up more nuances of their sensory environment.

“People normally remember an experience with limited detail–not everything we see, hear, and feel is remembered,” Bieszczad explained.  “What has happened here is that memory becomes closer to a snapshot of the actual experience of being spare, limited, or inaccurate.”

While it may seem like a plot summary to a movie, such clear memories could translate to real-world brain effects.  Having such a strong cognitive impression could help the brain create the kind of powerful neuronal connections that help it translate immediate moments in time into long-term memories.

As Bieszczad said, “this drug could rescue the ability to make new memories that are rich in detail and content, even in the worse case scenarios.”

The drug of course will require multiple new tests and refinements before it is ready for trial in human patients.  However, the study results provide a fascinating new avenue for future potential treatment for dementia and Alzheimer’s.




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