THE TIMES OF INDIA. March 5, 2012
NEW DELHI: The late US President Ronald Reagan had it; former Union minister George Fernandes is battling it, and actor Amitabh Bachchan made it a street word with his role in the 2005 movie Black. But a cure for Alzheimer's - a degenerative disorder of the brain - may be around the corner, going by the results achieved in studies at the National Brain Research Centre (NBRC).
The disorder marked by memory and judgment loss usually occurs in people older than 65, and has defied a cure so far. But researchers working with the extract of a herb used inAyurveda since ancient times have reported promising results. Using an extract of the Ashwagandha root on mice with Alzheimer's disease, NBRC scientists found it can reverse memory loss and may prove to be an effective cure for the disease in humans.
NBRC neuroscientist Vijayalakshmi Ravindranath tested the semi-purified sample extracted atDelhi University on genetically modified mice with Alzheimer's disease. Two sets of test mice - middle aged (9-10 months) and old (2 years) - were given oral doses of the extract for 30 daysand monitored. Over the month, scientists found a reduction in amyloid plaques (a symptom of Alzheimer's) in the mice brains and improvement in the animals' cognitive abilities. Their study was published recently in the Proceedings of The National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), and the Nature India Journal.
The mice used for the experiment carry the mutation that is characteristic of Alzheimer's disease and produce the amyloid in greater quantities.
"We got the mice from Jackson Labs in US. They were tested on a radial arm maze, where they are trained to go and pick food from four of the maze's eight arms. Since the mice had Alzheimer's, they were neither able to learn nor retain the learning. But after 20 days of the Ashwagandha treatment, we noticed a difference, and after 30 days they had started behaving normally," said Ravindranath, former founder-director of NBRC, and chairperson of Centre of Neurosciences, Indian Institute of Science.
She explained that the extract didn't work directly on the brain. It enhanced a protein in the liver that is thrown out in the blood and acts like a sponge to pull out the amyloid from the brain. "I am very interested in Ayurveda. This experiment gives us hope," Ravindranath said.
The NBRC's results have also boosted morale at DU's Natural Products Laboratory. "Professor Vijayalakshmi had approached us to evaluate some plants and their effect on neurological disorders. Most medicines that are currently being used for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's are synthetic drugs that have some side effects," said professor Subhash Chand Jain of Delhi University. The team at DU selected the root of Ashwagandha and followed up with a series of extractions at the lab.
"We did the extraction using a solvent system. And then it was further fractionalized to see which fraction was most active. At this point, Vijayalakshmi was very excited because she saw that some of the fractions were active. Then we worked on pinning down the fraction that was most active," Jain said.