Bulletproofing the brain

By • Published: January 9th, 2009
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

If only we could build a bulletproof vest for the brain.

Medical science has made some progress against debilitating neurodegenerative disorders, but most of today’s treatments address only the symptoms of disease, not the underlying causes.

As a result, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, A-L-S and other neurodegenerative diseases continue to be major health problems.

That’s why a concept known as “neuroprotection” is challenging scientists in laboratories around the world.

Researchers are trying to find chemical compounds that will protect our neurons… the workhorse cells of our brain, spinal cord and nerves… from the ravages of disease and the wear-and-tear of time.

Recent progress has been reported by scientists at Southern Methodist University and the University of Texas at Dallas, who tested the effectiveness of forty-five chemical compounds in slowing the degeneration of neurons.

One substance that showed particular neuroprotective potential was described as a “second-generation” compound.

Previously, a chemical mixture called GW 5074 [G-W-fifty-seventy-four] had been shown to be highly effective at protecting neurons.

The problem was that it became highly toxic at slightly elevated doses, meaning it could never be tested in humans.

But scientists generated a new compound that maintained GW 5074’s protective features while losing its toxicity, even at high doses.

The resulting agent protected neurons in cell cultures and mice from decay and death.

While far from being a finished therapy, the accomplishment does reflect the efforts to preserve the neurons of a rapidly graying population.

It’s not a bulletproof vest, but it is a work in progress.