A new experimental drug could help fight the memory loss and mental decline that often comes with old age, according to The Guardian. Clinical trials are expected to start within two years, and if successful, could offer a daily treatment for people 55 and up that are experiencing either normal cognitive decline, or impairment resulting from depression, schizophrenia, or Alzheimer’s disease.

There are currently no medications available to treat this mental decline. The new drug targets and aims to rejuvenate cells important for learning and memory, and its impact on the brain suggests it could be effective in preventing memory loss and even delay the onset of Alzheimer’s.

Researchers have found a connection between memory loss and levels of a neurotransmitter called GABA, which slows the rate that neurons fire, limiting what amounts to mental background noise.

The new drug is derived from benzodiazepines, a category of drugs that includes anti-anxiety medicine such as Klonopin, Valium, and Xanax. It replaces the broader effects of benzodiazepines with more targeted effects on specific GABA receptors in areas like the hippocampus, which plays an important role in cognition.

In tests on older mice, the drug appeared to boost cognition to nearly the same levels as younger mice. It also helped to improve cognition in younger mice facing temporary memory impairment from stress.

The research was carried out by scientists at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, Canada, led by Dr. Etienne Sibille, Deputy Director of the Campbell Family Mental Health Research Institute.

Sibille explained to The Guardian:

“An old mouse will naturally perform at about 50-60% on this test. Its working memory is basically not working. But within 30 minutes of administration of the drug, their performance is back up to 80-90%, so almost at the level of a young mouse. We have a rapid reversal of age-related working memory deficit and that is exciting.”

In their latest research, the team found that after two months on the drug, brain cells that had shrunk with age in older mice actually grew back. Sibille notes that the drug had no effect when given to healthy, young mice, however.

“It’s not a drug a student would take if they wanted to be smarter when they study for their exams,” he said.

The team submitted a patent for the drug this week ahead of a presentation at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Washington, D.C.

The next step will be clinical trials on humans, which the researchers say will start on patients with depression. Poor memory and cognition issues can often lead to relapses in those recovering from depression. Sibille says the drug could potentially improve the long-term outlook for these patients.

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