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Reversing memory loss. This is the Holy Grail in brain research.

First, scientists discovered they could slow aging brain cells.

Using the same technique, now Salk Institute researchers say they halted memory loss and they are hoping to enroll patients in a clinical trial aimed at restoring memories and stopping cognitive decline.

The key ingredient could be right in the field.

Strawberries are filled with fisetin.

Apples, onions and cucumbers carry the flavonoid as well.

And while most who enjoy the fruits and vegetables are oblivious to the ingredient, Salk Institute researcher Dr. Pamela Maher said she not only knew of its power, she wanted to harness it.

“We had shown a number of years ago that fisetin was neuroprotective,” Maher said. “We made a group of derivatives of fisetin and this compound CMS121 is one of those derivatives.”

Since the compound alone doesn’t penetrate the brain well, Maher and her team made a synthetic version to act on the brain with the ultimate goal of treating Alzheimer’s disease.

“One of the main things we found is that at least in the context of Alzheimer’s disease, it seems to reduce lipid synthesis enough and particularly the synthesis of a group of lipids called polyunsaturated fatty acids,” Maher said.

It’s those fatty acids that wreak havoc in the brain, damaging and killing brain cells. You may have encountered the oxidation process on the kitchen shelf with cooking oil packed with polyunsaturated fatty acids.

 “Say it’s been sitting on the shelf for a long time and you open a bottle of oil and it smells a little odd,” Maher said. “That has become oxidized and that can happen in the brain that these polyunsaturated fats become oxidized in the brain as well.”

Stopping the process appears to stop memory loss, at least in mice.

“It was very exciting when we first did our studies with fisetin on Alzheimer’s disease mice and did see a profound benefit on memory,” Maher said. “And then when we tested this molecule a number of years later, it was really rewarding that our idea of making a derivative of the compound that got into the brain better did seem to pan out. That this was extremely effective even when we gave it to older mice that had already developed symptoms of the disease.”

How did they know for sure?

“They didn’t have good spatial memory,” Maher said. “They couldn’t find a location and the compound made them so that they could find the location or remember the context.”

Next is moving from the lab to administering this compound to people with dementia and Alzheimer’s.

“We can start Phase 1 clinical trials, those are safety studies as well,” Maher said. “But in this case would be done in humans. If that looks good we can start testing in Alzheimer’s disease patients.”

Maher said it may be a few years before a meaningful drug would potentially be available for doctors to prescribe to their patients. But with no cure for Alzheimer’s and more than 5 million suffering in this country, any step forward is meaningful.