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MIT Researchers Find a Way to Reverse Memory Loss in Mice

One of the last songs Glen Campbell performed, the Oscar nominated and Grammy winner “I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” painted a sad, yet optimistic picture of Alzheimer’s disease.

The simple country song tells a personal story about the iconic singer and guitarist who won’t be able to remember the people he loved the most.

This song, which has helped raise awareness of this debilitating disease, was triggered from a conversation that Campbell had with friends. He got tired of people constantly asking him how he felt about having Alzheimer’s disease.

He didn't like to talk too much about it, but told his close friend and songwriter Julian Raymond this: “I don’t know what everybody's worried about. It's not like I’m going to miss anyone, anyway.”

And now the singer is gone without the pain of missing anyone.

Campbell, 81, died this month — ironically, the same month that scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Picower Institute for Learning and Memory discovered a way to reverse memory loss in mice. They hope this medical breakthrough could help fight against Alzheimer’s disease in humans.

Alzheimer's disease is one of the most common forms of dementia, which interferes with people's ability to think, remember, reason, and make decisions.

As with what happened to Campbell in his farewell tour, where he could not recall lyrics and fans had to gently help him get through his songs, people with Alzheimer’s in general lose the ability to hold a conversation or respond to what is happening around them.

While there are cases of the disease in younger people, it generally is more common among adults who are 60 and older.

The MIT researchers admit they still have a long way to go before their research could be turned into a drug, but they remain hopeful.

“This has the potential to really make a difference,” says Jay Penney, Ph.D., one of the lead authors of the new study, published in the journal, Cell Reports.

The researchers were able to narrow in on the enzyme that causes memory loss in Alzheimer’s patients.

“What we’ve done is found a new way to basically prevent this negative effect of this enzyme,” Penney says.

Penney said they turned off the enzyme known as HDAC2. By turning off this enzyme, it can no longer interfere with the commutation with brain cells.

The researchers stopped the memory loss in mice. But turning off the HDAC2 enzyme did something else. It reversed the memory loss.

It’s not new that this particular enzyme triggers memory loss, but what is new is that the researchers were able to turn it off for the first time without it causing additional problems and toxic side effects.

While the research is promising, and the hope is that someday, a drug can be developed, it is still years away from entering the market.

Today, about 5 million people are thought to be living with Alzheimer's disease in the U.S. This number is expected to rise to 14 million by 2050.

While this breakthrough sadly comes too late for Campbell, hopefully, it will be music to so many other ears as researchers continue to work towards finding a cure.