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Key to unlocking memory found

Here is how an experiment to supress an obese man's appetite threw up interesting evidence on Alzheimer's.

health and fitness Updated: Jan 30, 2008 18:02 IST

Hope for Alzheimer's patients! Scientists claim to have discovered a way to reverse loss of memory, a breakthrough that could bolster the fight against the disease.

The accidental discovery came during an experiment to suppress an obese man's appetite by using a technique called deep-brain stimulation which involves stimulating parts of the brain with an electric current.

Instead of losing appetite, the patient was suddenly able to recall in immense detail a moment spent in a park with a friend 30 years earlier. More tests revealed his ability to learn was dramatically improved when the current was switched on and his brain stimulated.

According to lead researcher Professor Andres Lozano of the Toronto Western Hospital in Canada, "This is the first time that anyone has had electrodes implanted in the brain which have been shown to improve memory.<b1>

"We're driving the activity of the brain by increasing its sensitivity, turning up the volume of the memory circuits. Any event that involves the memory circuits is more likely to be stored and retained."

Prof Lozano said that the 50-year-old obese man turned to the brain surgery as a last resort.

The treatment was unsuccessful but while the researchers were identifying potential appetite suppressant points in the hypothalamus, the part of the brain associated with hunger, the man suddenly began to say that memory was flooding back.

"It gives us insight into which brain structures are involved in memory. It gives us a means of intervening in the way we have already done in Parkinson's and for mood disorders such as depression, and it may have therapeutic benefit in people with memory problems," The Independent quoted Prof Lozano as saying.

The researchers are now applying the technique in the first trial of the treatment in patients with Alzheimer's.

"We are in the early stages of using it with the Alzheimer's patients and we don't know if it will work. Three patients have been treated and initial results are promising," Prof Lozano said.