A new drug candidate may be the first capable of halting the devastating mental decline of Alzheimer's disease, based on the findings of a study published December 14, 2011 in PLoS ONE. When given to mice with Alzheimer's, the drug, known as J147, improved memory and prevented brain damage caused by the disease. The new compound, developed by scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, could be tested for treatment of the disease in humans in the near future. "J147 enhances memory in both normal and Alzheimer's mice and also protects the brain from the loss of synaptic connections," says Dr. David Schubert, the head of Salk's Cellular Neurobiology Laboratory, whose team developed the new drug. "No drugs on the market for Alzheimer's have both of these properties." Although it is yet unknown whether the compound will prove safe and effective in humans, the Salk researchers' say their results suggest the drug may hold potential for treatment of people with Alzheimer's. As many as 5.4 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer's, according to the National Institutes of Health. More than 16 million will have the disease by 2050, according to Alzheimer's Association estimates, resulting in medical costs of over $1 trillion per year. The disease causes a steady, irreversible decline in brain function, erasing a person's memory and ability to think clearly until they are unable to perform simple tasks such as eating and talking, and it is ultimately fatal. Alzheimer's is linked to aging and typically appears after age 60, although a small percentage of families carry a genetic risk for earlier onset. Among the top ten causes of death, Alzheimer's is the only one without a way to prevent, cure, or slow disease progression.
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