For many decades, researchers have studied the effect of dementia on the human brain as connections between the cells in the brain are lost.

A new discovery by a researcher at the UK Dementia Research Institute may hold the key to understanding how animals experience the loss of connection between brain cells. Hibernating animals like bears, hedgehogs and bats lose 20-30 percent of their brain connections as they preserve resources, to survive the winter. These animals are able to re-form those connections once the cold has ended.

Exploratory research in this area, led to discovery of a protein called RBM3, which was first observed in mice who had their body temperature lowered and then increased to normal levels. The protein enabled the mice to regenerate the brain connections that had been lost. This was a promising first step.

However, as RBM3 had not yet been identified in humans, volunteers were needed for human trials.

A willing group of swimmers at the unheated London Parliament Hill Lido step in. This  enables  discovery of increased levels of RBM3 in those taking a dip in the cool waters, compared to those on the side of the pool.

Having now discovered the presence of RBM3 in human blood, it is hoped this effect may be re-created in the human brain, through a drug which stimulates production of this protein.

As it stands, the researcher who led this study says “the risks associated with getting cold outweigh any potential benefits, so cold water immersion is certainly not a potential dementia treatment…The challenge now, is to find a drug that stimulates the production of the protein in humans and – more important still – to prove it really does help delay dementia.”

Learn how researchers came across the brain response in hibernating animals, and how they plan to use their findings, at https://www.bbc.com/news/health-54531075

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