A gene therapy technique has proved more successful than anticipated on aged Rhesus monkeys, and will hopefully eventually assist Alzheimer's disease sufferers to recover more youthful brains and brain functions.
On September 14, 1999, a study appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that revealed some promising results. The study's senior author, Dr. Mark H. Tuszynski of the University of California, San Diego, mentioned how the experiments made clearer the newer understandings that brain neurons do not die, they just shrink and atrophy. In the aged Rhesus monkeys studied, genes for nerve growth factor (NGF) were put into their brains and their basal forebrain cells were restored to near their youthful size and number. (Basal forebrain cells could well be called air traffic controllers for the organ.)
A promising detail in these Rhesus monkey tests was that, after NGF genes were applied into the non-control monkeys, the modified cells themselves began manufacturing NGF. In a follow-up endeavor, another group of senior rhesus monkeys is being used to ascertain whether this NGF-application technique can bring back memory and thinking abilities as well. In June 1999, the researchers applied to the FDA so that, if given permission, they can test the NGF gene technique on people suffering from Alzheimer's disease. According to Tuszynski, the first phase would only involve a small group, for safety-determination reasons.
In the meantime, according to the September 15 Journal of Neuroscience, humans wanting better memory should probably eat blueberries. Boston and Denver researchers obtained promising results after feeding old rats a blueberry-heavy diet.
Sources: CNN.com, 9/14/99 (from the Associated Press); The Washington Post, 9/20/99; PNAS Online