Drugs that encourage the growth of new neurons in the brain are now headed for clinical trials. The drugs, which have already shown success in alleviating symptoms of depression and boosting memory in animal models, are being developed by BrainCells, a San Diego-based start-up that screens drugs for their brain-growing power. The company hopes the compounds will provide an alternative to existing antidepressants and says they may also prove effective in treating cognitive disorders, such as Alzheimer's.
"The fact that you might be able to take small molecules to stimulate specific cells to regenerate in the brain is paradigm-shifting," says Christopher Eckman, a neuroscientist at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, FL. "[This approach] takes advantage of the body's innate ability to correct itself when given appropriate cues." Eckman studies compounds that boost brain cell growth in models of neurodegenerative disease and is not involved with BrainCells.
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