October 25, 2005

Drug boosts snail memory, may help humans: researchers

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A cancer drug may stimulate the
production of proteins needed for long-term memory, supporting
interest in the compound as a possible treatment for
Alzheimer's disease, researchers said on Monday.

Scientists at the Blanchette Rockefeller Neurosciences
Institute and the Marine Biological Laboratory report that
introducing bryostatin into a marine snail, days before a
learning activity, caused a marked improvement in long-term

"This could be a real breakthrough for Alzheimer's
patients," said Dr. Daniel Alkon, institute scientific director
and lead author of the study published this week in the
Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

The Alzheimer's Association says about 4.5 million
Americans currently suffer from Alzheimer's and its incidence
is forecast to rise as the U.S. population ages to as many as
16 million people by 2050.

An early symptom of Alzheimer's disease is losing the
ability to store new memories for the long term and bryostatin
appears to enhance this long-term storage.

In the snail experiment, researchers put bryostatin in
seawater, days in advance of any learning or training, causing
certain proteins to be made by the neurons of the snails.

When the snails were trained days later, instead of
remembering something for a minute or two, they would remember
it for weeks, researchers said.

Last year, experiments in mice suggested bryostatin also
helps prevent the protein buildup seen in the brains of
Alzheimer's victims.

Bryostatin was found in bacteria that act as a chemical
defense mechanism for the marine invertebrate Bugula neritina,
a purplish brown animal with stringy tufts.

The Blanchette Rockefeller Neurosciences Institute, is
named for West Virginia Democratic Sen. John Rockefeller's
mother, who died after a struggle with Alzheimer's disease.

The institute has a patent for use of bryostatin to treat
Alzheimer's disease and is in discussion with the private
sector on a partnership to shepherd the drug through clinical
trials and any subsequent marketing efforts.

"We believe we are on the right path toward providing
Alzheimer's patients and their families with a treatment that
goes to the underlying cause of the disease," institute
president Dr. Robert D'Alessandri said in a statement.