July 09, 2004

Pills to Boost Brainpower

With all the anti-aging, appearance-altering, and self-improvement products currently on the market, maybe it's no surprise that scientists are in the early stages of developing drugs meant to improve mental ability.

There's no doubt that such a drug would appeal to many people trying to avoid the natural "cognitive decline" that comes with aging, particularly in a world that is moving faster, working longer, and sleeping less. However, the people with clear potential to benefit are those living with cognitive deficits outside the normal range - traumatic brain injury victims and the mentally ill.

According to John Tallman, CEO of Helicon Therapeutics which is currently developing such a drug, "The hallmark...is [that] they don't create more memory. What these drugs really do is enhance the conversion process of short-term to long-term memories."
Other companies with research teams in the game include Sention and Memory Pharmeceuticals.

Memory Pharmeceuticals indicates that it is developing the drugs with brain-impaired patients in mind. However, the company "acknowledges that the potential market for its compounds, one of which is being tested in humans, might extend far beyond patients with Alzheimer's and other memory-robbing ailments. Though 37 million people worldwide have Alzheimer's disease, the company says, more than 180 million � or half of all people over 65 � are experiencing 'age-associated cognitive decline.' "

Despite the potential, there is no indication that drugs meant to overcome deficits will be beneficial for healthy individuals. For example, research showed that the nicotine patch helped boost cognitive functioning in subjects diagnosed with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease, ADHD, or schizophrenia. However, healthy subjects experienced only a modest effect.

The decision that every individual has to make, whether healthy or ill, is whether the potential benefits of this or any other drug outweigh the risks. Judging by the number of students who are willing to take energy-enhancing drugs or supplements (e.g. ritalin, vitamin B12, or "BrainQUICKEN capsules") for an extra boost, the potential market for memory-enhancing drugs could be huge.

For the full news article, see USA Today (www.usatoday.com/news/health/)
Article: 'Smart pills' make headway' (July 7, 2004)


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Posted by: gabriel at July 23, 2004 07:34 PM

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