Researchers from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California have tested an experimental drug on rapidly-aging mice, with the treatment designed to combat aspects of aging closely associated with Alzheimer's. The results were very positive, with treated mice exhibiting better memory, cognition and more.

Alzheimer's is a widespread and progressive disease that chiefly affects the elderly. There are currently more than five million people with the condition in the United States alone.

The Salk research is looking to tackle the disease from a new angle. It expands upon a previous study conducted back in 2013, working with a potent memory-enhancing and neurotrophic drug called J147. Unlike most medicines designed to combat the disease, J147 was synthesized after looking at age-associated brain toxicities, and looks to tackle the major risk factor for the disease – old age itself.

The older research looked at the effect of J147 on mice with an inherited form of Alzheimer's, finding that it was able to prevent and even reverse memory loss in subjects. While that was promising, inherited Alzheimer's is far less common than cases of the disease triggered by old age.

The new study looked to discover whether the experimental drug is as effective at fighting Alzheimer's caused by old age, which is responsible for 99 percent of cases. Once the results were in, things were looking very positive, with the researchers surprised by how effective it had proved.

"We did not predict we'd see this sort of anti-aging effect," says lead author Antonio Currais. "But J147 made old mice look like they were young, based upon a number of physiological parameters."

The team introduced J147 to a breed of rapidly-aging laboratory mice, measuring its effect on genes in the brain, as well as more than 500 small molecules involved in the animals' metabolism. Three groups were tested, one young and two old, of which one was treated with J147 for some seven months and the other not.

The results were very positive, with the treated elderly mice performing better in memory tests and exhibiting better motor functions. They also showed less pathological signs of Alzheimer's in their brains, and generally shared more aspects of their gene expression and metabolism with the younger set of mice. Overall, J147 was found to have protective effects on the central nervous system, with the ability to tackle aspects of aging closely associated with Alzheimer's.

While further study will be necessary before any sweeping statements can be made regarding the potential impact that the new treatment might have on sufferers of the disease, it's clear that J147's focus on treating the risk factor of the disease is having a big impact on its success, in mice at least. We shouldn't have to wait too long to find out if it's effective on people, with the team hoping to start human trials in 2016.

The researchers published the findings of their study in the journal Aging.