North Texas
7:47 pm
Fri July 9, 2010

UTSW Brain Discovery

Dallas, TX – UT Southwest Medical Center researchers have discovered a compound that may someday lead to improved memory for people with Alzheimer's or neurodegenerative problems. KERA's Shelley Kofler says the scientists may have been working with mice but they had humans in mind all along.

Researchers Steven McKnight and Andrew Pieper discovered P7C3 after introducing 1,000 different chemicals into the brains of mice. The compound seemed to allow new neurons to form in a part of the brain critical for memory. Older rats exposed to the compound showed a new ability to learn and remember tasks.

The scientists began their research about five years ago. McKnight, chairman of biochemistry at UT Southwest, says they had big goals right from the start.

McKnight: If we could be the people who could help stumble onto a way to keep cognitive capacity up it would be spectacular for Andrew and me. That's our aspiration.

Pieper, an assistant professor of psychiatry and biochemistry, says the researchers took big risks to get big results.

Pieper: That's why we took the approach of actually screening in living mice as opposed to doing tests in a test tube or a Petri dish. A lot of times those types of screens yield compounds that then don't do anything in a living animal. So we decided we would start in the animal from the beginning so anything we did find would have a more likely chance of eventually being something that would benefit people.

The research was funded through a $2.5 million award from the National Institutes of Health.

The Dallas-based researchers say transforming their discovery into a treatment for humans is still a long way off. But they're encouraged that day will come.

Email Shelley Kofler

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