Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Restoring Lost Memories to Dementia Sufferers

When a person has a loved one with dementia, it is as if part of themselves is lost. Shared memories between pairs and groups of humans is a large part of what makes life satisfying and fun. When shared memories are lost, life's colours can fade. Researchers at MIT are attempting to understand the molecules of memory better, in order to restore lost memories to persons who suffer from dementia.
Having shed light on the mechanisms driving the progress of Alzheimer's disease, Tsai, who had come to MIT in 2006, wanted to figure out how to fight or even reverse some of the symptoms. She and postdoc Andre Fischer, now at the European Neuroscience Institute in Göttingen, Germany, knew of evidence from other studies that physical exercise and environmental enrichment--such as the addition of companions and toys--increases brain function in mice. So they decided to test what would happen if they tried this technique with their Alzheimer's-like mice.

In one experiment, they trained mice to find and remember a platform submerged within a murky pool. Then they induced the Alzheimer's-like effects. The mice swam aimlessly, unable to locate the spot. But when the researchers moved the mice to a more stimulating environment and then placed them back in the swimming pool, the rodents kicked directly to the platform. Those supposedly lost memories had returned.

....The results imply that restoring seemingly lost memories might also be possible in people. "Even in those patients that seem to lose their memory, we don't think the memory is really erased," she says. Tsai suspects that the massive neuronal die-off damages the brain's circuitry--the wiring that connects different regions. Rather than promoting neuron growth, she says, the new environment and the HDAC inhibitors strengthen synapses and dendrites, boosting connections between regions. In other words, they repair the circuits.

...."We're very hopeful," she says. "We may have something in the next few years that could be safe and beneficial enough to go into humans." Basic research may remain her first love, she adds. "But if my work can do something for the community or society, I would be so overjoyed." _TechnologyReview
We value most the things we can share.

If you don't have your mind, you have nothing. If you have your mind but not your health, at least you have your mind. Better to have your mind and your health, of course. Best of all, to be able to share good minds and good health with others of similar good fortune. A fulfilling life is a step by step proposition. Too often, the natural processes of life work against all of our efforts to create a fulfilling life. That is where we ask science to step in. It is not natural, what we are trying to do. But it is good.



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