Washington State University researchers have developed a new drug candidate that dramatically improves the cognitive function of rats with Alzheimer’s-like mental impairment. Their compound, which is intended to repair brain damage that has already occurred, is a significant departure from current Alzheimer’s treatments, which either slow the process of cell death or inhibit cholinesterase, an enzyme believed to break down a key neurotransmitter involved in learning and memory development.
Such drugs, says Joe Harding, a professor in WSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine, are not designed to restore lost brain function, which can be done by rebuilding connections between nerve cells.
"This is about recovering function,” he says. "That’s what makes these things totally unique. They’re not designed necessarily to stop anything. They’re designed to fix what’s broken. As far as we can see, they work.”
Harding, College of Arts and Sciences Professor Jay Wright and other WSU colleagues report their findings in the online "Fast Forward” section of the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics. Their drug comes as the pharmacological industry is struggling to find an effective Alzheimer’s treatment. Last month, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA, reported that only three of 104 possible treatments have been approved in the past 13 years. "This 34 to one ratio of setbacks to successes underlines the difficulty of developing new medicines for Alzheimer’s,” the trade group said in a news release.