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Cover Story

September 3, 2007
Volume 85, Number 36
pp. 22-24

Molecules For Memory

Several companies are developing compounds that improve memory, but ethical issues abound

Sophie L. Rovner

"MEMORY PROBLEMS in humans begin between ages 20 and 30, and they're progressive," says Gary S. Lynch, a professor of psychiatry and human behavior at the University of California, Irvine.

An effective memory aid could get a warm welcome in our aging society, yet drug development has been slow. Only a few modestly effective drugs for treating memory problems associated with Alzheimer's disease are available, including acetylcholinesterase inhibitors and Namenda (memantine), which blocks the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor on neurons. But "by and large, this is an untapped area," says UCLA neurobiologist Alcino J. Silva.

Courtesy of Gary Lynch/UC Irvine
Memory Booster Lynch stands before a sketch of AMPA receptors, the targets of his firm's ampakine drugs.

Many companies recognized the growth potential of the market and launched programs to develop cognition enhancers. Despite early enthusiasm for such products, however, the field "ran into molasses," because of the difficulties in pushing the drugs through the regulatory