Monday, March 02, 2009

The Ethics of Drug Enhancers of Memory

Few people would argue against using drugs like Aricept to help Alzheimer's patients. Few would complain about using propranolol to assist in treatment of post-traumatic stress syndrome. But what about using memory-enhancing drugs for normal people?

For now, the question is moot, because there are no drugs that have been proven to help normal people. But such drugs are on the horizon. Several drug companies are working on such drugs. One drug was recently discovered in animals to have a positive side effect of improving memory. The drug, Fasudil, increases blood flow in the brain of rats and has potential for treating stroke in humans. This drug has now been found by Matthew Huentelman, an investigator at the non-profit Translational Genomics Research Institute in Phoenix, Arizona. to affect a gene that promotes memory, and when tested in 18-month old (middle-aged) rats, enabled the rats to perform better in water-maze learning and memory tests. The older rats performed as well as young rats. I don't know if this work is published yet (it is widely reported in the lay press), and it certainly has not been replicated.

But for the sake of argument, let us assume that it is correct. Are there ethical issues for normal people taking it to improve their memory, to get better performance at work, or for students to get better grades? Some students already take Ritalin or amphetamines to improve their performance. Is this like doping in sports? Or will we come to accept use of such drugs as preventive medicine, forestalling or preventing dementia, Alzheimers's or even normal mental decline with age?

1 comment:

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