There is a drug that can actually reverse brain damage

Because medicine can be amazing.

In what scientists are calling an "extraordinarily exciting" discovery, a four-year-old experimental drug has fully restored memory and learning in mice with traumatic brain injuries.

The new research, conducted by scientists from the University of California San Francisco, furthers work that started in 2013, when a group of scientists from the U.S., Canada and Israel first introduced the drug, called ISRIB. But the drug's potential – notably, its ability to completely reverse the effects of brain injuries – hasn't been fully realized until now.

"We think that ISRIB may uncover an untapped reservoir in the brain that allows damaged memory circuits to be repaired," said Peter Walter, a professor of biochemistry and biophysics at UCSF and co-senior author of the new study.

In the new study, scientists tested the effects of ISRIB on mice afflicted with two forms of brain injury that are known to cause permanent effects on brain function. They expected to see improvement for sure – but they couldn't have predicted this.

Mice have been a hallmark of laboratory science for decades. But their relationship with humans goes back a whole lot farther. (Photo: Mirko Sobotta/Shutterstock)Even the mice are impressed. (Photo: Mirko Sobotta/Shutterstock)

Not only did the drug repair the damage, it did so much later than researchers expected – sometimes weeks after the injury occurred.

"In general, animals with these injuries never learn well again," said Susanna Rosi, co-author of the study and director of neurocognitive research at UCSF's Brain and Spinal Injury Center. "So it's remarkable that ISRIB could restore the ability to form new memories even when we delayed giving the drug for four weeks after the injury. This has not been considered possible."

The drug was first discovered in 2013 by scientists that included Carmela Sidrauski from the University of California San Francisco, Nahum Sonenberg, an Israeli professor at McGill University in Canada and Avi Ashkenazi, a cancer expert who got his PhD from Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Of course, we all know that mice are not human (though we now know the two species have been annoying each other for tens of thousands of years), so the behavior of the former cannot be automatically predicted by the latter. But there's a reason why so many labs use mice to test their science – it's usually highly accurate! In this case, the UCSF researchers are very encouraged by the results and hope to use the drug as a candidate for clinical (read: human) trials.

"... I have high hopes that this drug can bring back lost memory capacity to our patients who have suffered brain injuries," Rosi said.

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