Medical breakthrough: Scientists hope to block ‘old-age protein’, reverse memory loss

Reuters / Shannon Stapleton
Scientists are aiming to develop antibodies which could reverse the effects of an ‘aging’ protein which builds up in the blood and body. The findings could lead to medical breakthroughs in reducing memory loss and brain degeneration.

Researchers from the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) believe that protein B2M, which accumulates in the blood and cerebral spinal fluid in elderly humans interferes with the formation of new brain cells, ultimately leading to age-related memory loss.

READ MORE: Miracle component in young blood rejuvenates brain, muscles in older mice

Blocking it could offer a reversal in memory decline and could potentially lead to the treatment of cognitive disorders, as B2M is found at increased levels in patients with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Scientists came up with the conclusion after injecting B2M into the brains or blood of young mice. After a careful study, the UCSF team discovered that the rodents performed just as badly as elderly mice, doubling their errors navigating a familiar maze. After the protein flushed out from the young mice’s system, the subjects’ memory performance returned to normal, suggesting that the effect of B2M is reversible.

The conclusions of the study have been published in the journal Nature Medicine, and are the latest in a series of parallel experiments by various groups of scientists over the past few years.

To further back up their hypothesis that a reduction in B2M levels could treat memory impairment, UCSF researchers genetically engineered mice to lack the microglobulin. These rodents, as they aged, performed nearly as well as young animals at completing memory tests.

READ MORE: Depression makes your brain smaller – study

“What this shows is that you can manipulate the blood, rather than the brain, to potentially treat memory problems,” coauthor of the report, Saul Villeda told AFP. “And that’s so much easier ... in terms of thinking of human patients.”

Villeda believes there are two ways to potentially reverse age-related cognitive impairments, “one is to introduce pro-youthful blood factors and the other is to therapeutically target pro-ageing factors.”

Research is already in full swing to come up with the drug that could put a halt on or destroy B2M buildup in mice, and which could potentially be administered to humans.

“Right now, the idea is to develop antibodies or small molecules that can either block the effects of the protein or help to remove it from old blood,” says Villeda.