Is There Really a Drug That Reverses Age-Related Mental Decline Within Days?

Q. 2020 has been a tough year. Something good has to come out of it. Please tell me that it’s true that a drug has been invented that reverses age-related mental decline. I thought I read it somewhere, but my eyes might be deceiving me. Thanks so much for clarifying and for all your great insights this year!

A. I read it too in a local article covered on WJLA and on a reputable university website: there is an experimental drug that has been shown to reverse age-related declines in memory and mental flexibility, according to a new study by UC San Francisco scientists — but so far just in mice. The drug, called Integrated Stress Response InhiBitor (ISRIB), has been shown in laboratory studies to restore memory function months after traumatic brain injury (TBI), reverse cognitive impairments in Down Syndrome, prevent noise-related hearing loss, fight certain types of prostate cancer, and even enhance cognition in healthy animals. Wow! Just imagine if this new drug, or a derivation thereof, can be found that works for humans!

ISRIB Research Focuses on Reversing Aging and Improving Brain Function

The new study was just published Dec. 1, 2020, in the journal eLife. Researchers at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) were testing ISRIB, and found that it  resulted in rapid restoration of youthful cognitive abilities in aged mice, accompanied by a rejuvenation of brain and immune cells that could help explain improvements in brain function.

Dr. Suzanna Rosi, UCSF professor in the departments of Neurological Surgery and of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science, led a team that conducted tests on older mice, about the equivalent of a human 55 to 65 years old. The team was able to reset the protein switch in the brain of the mice, which resulted in amelioration of their memory function, to the level of young animals.

Researchers were able to train the aged animals to escape from a watery maze by finding a hidden platform, a task that is typically hard for older animals to learn. Animals who received small daily doses of ISRIB during the three-day training process were able to accomplish the task as well as youthful mice, much better than animals of the same age who didn’t receive the drug.

Several weeks after the initial ISRIB treatment, researchers trained the same mice to find their way out of a maze whose exit changed daily – a test of mental flexibility for aged mice who, similar to humans, tend to get increasingly stuck in their ways. The mice who had received brief ISRIB treatment three weeks before still performed at youthful levels, while untreated mice continued to struggle.

Results of ISRIB Appear to Be Long-Lasting

Three weeks later, with no additional treatment, the team conducted another test on the mice to see if the results were long-lasting. Scientists discovered that the mice were able to perform and excel at harder tasks. “That tells us that whatever we did three weeks before is translated to other cognitive levels,” said Dr. Rosi. “We believe that we’ve really found the switch on the cognitive ability that once we can move it on and off, we don’t need to treat animals and hopefully eventually humans, for a long period of time. We just need to reset the response in the brain. I think it’s exciting and kind of revolutionary.” Researchers say this could have significant impacts for ailments across the board, including Dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s Disease, and Down Syndrome.

These are some of the additional findings from the study:

Cognitive capacity loss isn’t necessarily permanent: The data suggests that the aged brain has not permanently lost essential cognitive capacities, as was commonly assumed, but rather that these cognitive resources are still there but have been somehow blocked.
ISRIB works by rebooting cell’s protein production after it’s been stunted by a stress response. Research with ISRIB demonstrates how it helps to stop the blockage of cognitive capacities and restore cognitive abilities that had become walled off over time.
To understand how ISRIB might be improving brain function, the researchers studied the hippocampus, a brain region with a key role in learning and memory, just one day after giving animals a single dose of ISRIB. They found that common signs of aging in that region of the brain disappeared overnight. Cells showed more robust connectivity with cells around them while also showing an ability to form stable connections with one another — usually only seen in younger mice.
ISRIB has no side effects: So far in all their studies, the researchers have observed no side effects associated with ISRIB.
Blockage of cellular protein production may play a role in a wide array of neurological conditions. Here are the conditions where there is already evidence that the Integrated Stress Response (ISR) plays a role, and which could potentially be treated with an ISR-resetting agent such as ISRIB: Frontotemporal Dementia; Alzheimer’s Disease; Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS); Age-related Cognitive Decline; Multiple Sclerosis: Traumatic Brain Injury; Parkinson’s Disease; Down Syndrome and more.
ISRIB has been licensed by Calico, a South San Francisco, Calif. company exploring the biology of aging, and the idea of targeting the ISR to treat disease has been picked up by many other pharmaceutical companies.

“We’ve seen how ISRIB restores cognition in animals with traumatic brain injury, which in many ways is like a sped-up version of age-related cognitive decline,” said Rosi, who is director of neurocognitive research in the UCSF Brain and Spinal Injury Center and a member of the UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences. “It may seem like a crazy idea, but asking whether the drug could reverse symptoms of aging itself was just a logical next step.”

Research About ISRIB Continues

The researchers are continuing to study exactly how ISRIB disrupts cognition in aging and other conditions and to understand how long it’s cognitive benefits may last. Hopefully, findings such as these will have positive implications for diseases from Alzheimer’s to diabetes that have been linked to heightened inflammation caused by an aging immune system. We’re very aware that this new drug sounds miraculous and too good to be true, so time will tell. We’ll continue to monitor the research and let you know as more developments are available about ISRIB.

When it Comes to Restoring Memory, Be Wary of Unproven Treatments

We are excited about the prospect of a drug such as ISRIB, with the potential to restore memory function and hope it proves to be game-changing in staving off, or even reversing, aging of the brain and treating conditions, such as Alzheimer’s. When it comes to Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, however, we caution you to make sure all treatments you undergo are proven, have been widely tested, and are FDA-approved.

Some people are tempted by untried or unproven “cures” that claim to make the brain sharper or prevent dementia. Be cautious of pills, supplements, brain training computer games, or other products that promise to improve memory or prevent brain disorders. These might be unsafe, a waste of money, or both. They might even interfere with other medical treatments. Currently there is no drug or treatment that prevents Alzheimer’s or related dementias.

There are currently several drugs available by prescription to safely treat the symptoms of early and mid-stage Alzheimer’s. If you have been diagnosed with dementia, your doctor may suggest that you take one of them.

How to protect yourself and others from unproven treatments:

Beware if the product claim seems too promising and if it conflicts with what you’ve heard from your health care provider.
Question any product that claims to be a “scientific breakthrough.” Companies marketing these products often take advantage of people when they are most vulnerable and looking for a miracle cure.
Check with your doctor or health care professional before buying any product, including those labeled as dietary supplements, that promises to improve your memory or prevent dementia.
Report any products or supplements being advertised as a treatment for Alzheimer’s or other diseases on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s website.

Medicaid Planning for Alzheimer’s and Other Types of Dementia

Dementia is the most challenging health and social care challenge of our generation, and a diagnosis of the disease is always life-changing. When it comes to legal planning for long-term care, generally the earlier someone with dementia plans, the better the result. But it is important to know that it’s never too late to begin the process of Long-term Care Planning, also called Life Care Planning, Medicaid Asset Protection Planning, or just Medicaid planning. This type of planning can be started by an adult child acting as agent under a properly-drafted Power of Attorney, and can even be started if your loved one is already in a nursing home or receiving other long-term care services. If you have a loved one who is suffering from any type of dementia, please feel free to call us for an initial consultation:

Medicaid Planning Fairfax: 703-691-1888
Medicaid Planning Fredericksburg: 540-479-1435
Medicaid Planning Rockville: 301-519-8041
Medicaid Planning DC: 202-587-2797


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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.