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Scientific breakthrough cures memory loss in mice

Researchers at Stanford University are reversing symptoms of Alzheimer’s in mice using a strange tactic – they’re infusing elderly mice with spinal fluid from younger ones.

Many medical breakthroughs that benefit humans are discovered by conducting trials on mice.

Though we look nothing alike, almost all the genes found in mice have similar functions to genes in humans. We get diseases for the same reasons, meaning scientists can study illnesses closely in mice to understand how they manifest in us.

One disease that has evaded scientists for decades is Alzheimer’s. Its commonality increases with age, affecting 1 in 14 people over the age of 65. But early onset Alzheimer’s is prevalent too and 1 in 20 people with the disease are below the age of 65.

Extensive research has suggested that this type of memory loss is a result of age-driven changes to fluid that surrounds both the brain and spinal cord.

This has led scientists to question: could injecting youthful brain fluid into old mice’s brains help cure their forgetfulness?

It sounds weird, but apparently so.


Are grandpa mice getting dementia?

Yes, actually. They are.

Researchers have tested mice’s ability to remember signals of a painful experience, such as a light or sound cue followed by an electric shock.

What they noticed was that in just a matter of days, elderly mice would forget this correlation, while younger mice remembered it for weeks and months at a time.

The idea that replacing elderly mice’s brain fluid with younger mice’s brain fluid to give them the gift of a strong memory sounds pretty sick, to say the least. Especially when extracting cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) from animals as small as mice is logistically very difficult.

Don’t underestimate science though. One doctor called Tal Iram was willing to risk it – and her patience – and began collecting spinal fluid from young mice over the course of several months.

After arduous months of gathering CSF from young mice and injecting it into older mice, she found that the older mice began remembering experiences just as well as their younger peers.

This rejuvenated memory capacity was thanks to the youthful CSF fluid boosting specialised cells in the hippocampus (the area of the brain known to store memories). Wild.

Could this method be used to treat adults?

Well, although the world of healthcare is getting pretty weird lately, scientists wouldn’t exactly be able to take fresh and healthy cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) from babies to give to their grandparents with Alzheimer’s.

I’d hope that we can all agree that’d be massively wrong.

But theoretically, a drug could be developed to mimic the growth factor in CSF that scientists have labelled ‘FGF17’ – the one that helps the hippocampus cells recover – to administer to people suffering with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Developing a drug that can safely and effectively do this will be the next lengthy step for medical experts, however the discovery that it could even be possible is something worth shouting about.

Oh, and don’t forget to shout out Ratatouille.

 

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