FILE - Northwestern University

It's that time of year when many people resolve to give up nicotine for good, but researchers in Illinois want participants for a study looking at how a dose of nicotine could help some people with memory health.

Dr. Paul A. Newhouse, director of the Center for Cognitive Medicine in the Department of Psychiatry at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, leads the Memory Improvement Through Nicotine Dosing, or MIND, study. While most people associate nicotine with smoking, he’s been doing research for 25 years on how the drug affects the brain. Some of that research, he said, focuses on how nicotine can combat memory loss.

“If we separate nicotine from the tobacco plant and don’t inhale it, we can use that as a medicine,” Newhouse said. “If given in the proper dose in the proper manner, we think using nicotine as a natural plant product may stimulate the brain in just the right way to enhance memory and attention.”

Northwestern University in Evanston is one of 30 institutions taking part in the study.

Nonsmokers interested in taking part in the study can visit the website MINDStudy.org. Participants won’t get paid, but may be eligible for travel assistance.

Up to 20 percent of people older than 65 have Mild Cognitive Impairment, or MCI. It's most common in seniors as a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Nicotine has been used since the 1920s for a variety of other conditions and in studies, Newhouse said. It was one of the first treatments for Parkinson's, but was too difficult to use for patients, he added. Newhouse also said it’s been studied in stomach and bowel conditions, snd examined for neurological conditions.

In his research of nicotine’s effect on the brain, he’s seen some promising signs.

“We now know that the places where nicotine binds to different brain tissues, those areas are lost in Alzheimer's disease,” Newhouse said. “We want to take advantage of that in not waiting until someone has developed Alzheimer's disease, but rather stimulate those areas when patients are just experiencing the early phases of memory loss.”

Researchers are looking for nonsmokers who would be administered nicotine patches and given a variety of memory-type tests.

Information is available online at MINDStudy.org or by calling 1-866-MIND-150.

Reporter

Greg Bishop reports on Illinois government and other statewide issues for INN. Bishop has years of award-winning broadcast experience, and previously hosted “The Council Roundup,” as well as “Bishop On Air,” a morning-drive current events talk show.

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