More Memory Drugs and Nutrients Are on the Way
Memory Industry Expansion
ecently, an FDA advisory panel decided that the age-related
gradual slowdown in cognitive ability in normal individuals - those not
previously considered to have neurodegenerative disease - is a valid category for
clinical treatment. Called "mild cognitive impairment," or MCI (isn't this
familiar?), this mental slowdown may not lead to more serious cognitive
degeneration (only about 10-15% of those with it go on to Alzheimer's disease).
Thus, treating MCI may fall into the preventive arena as well as that of
enhancement, representing a significant change of tide for the FDA.
You better believe that drug companies have not missed the
implications of this opening. In fact, many of them have been beating the drum
for it all along, because its recognition could significantly expand the
marketplace for memory-enhancement drugs. And that's good news for those of us
for whom memory is so important.
Benefit for the Dietary Supplement Industry
From the dawn of modern neuroscience, the creation of
memories has been viewed as the result of activity-driven alterations in the
synapses of the brain. Essentially, the mechanisms of the changes that
determine how well we store information entail three phases: encoding,
expression, and consolidation. Each of these phases has lent very clear ideas
about the parts of the brain that represent likely drug targets. Now that the
FDA has recognized MCI, the pull of economic success will hasten the drive of
pharamaceutical companies to develop what must be called "smart drugs."
Ostensibly, far fewer of us will become victims of the dreaded neurological
diseases. But the "mild" boundaries are murky, and our hope is that the
resulting products will take us beyond the maintenance of normal memory
function to supranormal function, so that we may exceed what has previously
been viewed as normal. Without a doubt, the benefit of added research in this
area will influence research in the nondrug arena for cognitive enhancement.
Do not suppose that the FDA is on the side of smart drugs
and for their widespread availability for all those who could benefit from
them. To the contrary, the FDA is not about to give up control in this
category, any more than it would in any other area of the pharmaceutical world
it presides over. Yet as we enter the New Year, the idea of enhancement is upon
us, so strongly that bureaucrats may not be able to hold back the tide, given
the clamor for better health and the higher standards set by the nutritional
supplement industry. As Victor Hugo wrote, "There is one thing stronger than
all the armies in the world, and that is an idea whose time has come." Better
memory is such an idea. And remember that memory extension is life extension.
It can add life to our years, if not years to our life - and perhaps that too.
- Lynch G. Memory enhancement: the search for
mechanism-based drugs. Nat Neurosci 2002 Nov;5 Suppl 1:1035-8.