A new animal study has found that a drug candidate developed by Salk researchers, which has previously shown to slow down aging in brain cells, has been found effective at reversing memory loss.

The study, published online last month in the journal Redox Biology, also found that the drug candidate, called CMS121, works by changing the metabolism of fats in the brain cells.

Senior author Pamela Maher said, “This was a more rigorous test of how well this compound would work in a therapeutic setting than our previous studies on it. Based on the success of this study, we’re now beginning to pursue clinical trials.”

Maher is the senior staff scientist in the lab of Salk Professor David Schubert.

Maher and team have studied a chemical called fisetin, which is found in fruits and vegetables, and its effects on improving memory and even preventing Alzheimer’s in mice. They synthesized different variants of fisetin and developed CMS121, which has previously shown promise in improving the animals’ memory and slowing the aging of brain cells.

The researchers tested the effect of CMS121 on mice that developed Alzheimer’s-like disease. They gave a daily dose of CMS121 to mice. After three months, mice with Alzheimer’s-like disease that received the chemical performed will, while untreated mice performed poorly.

The team noted that CMS121 successfully reversed memory loss in the mice by changing the metabolism of lipids in brain cells.

The study’s first author Gamze Ates said, “That not only confirmed that lipid peroxidation is altered in Alzheimer’s, but that this drug is actually normalizing those changes.”

They showed how the chemical lowered the levels of the lipid-producing molecules in the brain.

The group is now pursuing clinical trials but they hope other scientists will explore additional compounds that may help treat Alzheimer’s disease by targeting lipid peroxidation. Maher said, “There has been a big struggle in the field right now to find targets to go after so identifying a new target in an unbiased way like this is really exciting and opens lots of doors.”