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New Drug Aims to Keep You Awake

New Drug Aims to Keep You Awake



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Dr. Kim Mulvihill ReportingAn experimental drug developed by a California company is grabbing a lot of attention. It offers a new way to stay alert, thanks to a little pill.

It is experimental, but the results are impressive enough that the Department of Defense is funding a new clinical trial and no one is yawning over that.

"I don't sleep very well at all. I'm a student and I stay up at night. Sometimes my schedule's, you know, off, and I like the night."

He's not alone. Forty million Americans have trouble sleeping at a cost of more than a good night's sleep.

Rafael Pelayo, MD, Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic: "The impact of sleep in America has been in the millions of dollars in lost productivity, car accidents, people not doing well at work--it's a huge impact on our society."

People are always looking for short cuts to jolt their way out of a sleepy haze.

"I like fruit in the morning, sometimes that helps, or I like physical activity but this is the easy way out -- get a cup of coffee and take off."

Well roll over caffeine, there's a new drug in town. Tested on monkeys, the experiment drug -- called cx717-- works by boosting the action of glutamate, the major excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain. In other words, it wakes you up.

The drug appears to increase activity in the brain's frontal cortex, where complex thinking occurs. It also acts on centers that control short-term memory. But is monkeying around with the brain a good idea?

Dr. Pelayo: "I think we have to monkey around with the brain when the brain is not working well."

Dr. Rafael Pelayo is a specialist at the sleep disorders clinic at Stanford.

Dr. Pelayo: "Something has to be done to help the brain, but if someone is healthy, obviously they don't need to have anything else done for them. They would be better off if they got the right sleep that they needed."

While fighter pilots on long missions may benefit from a wakeup pill, Dr. Pelayo says there's no replacement for sleep.

Dr. Pelayo: "We want people to think about sleep in the same way they think about nutrition and exercise. It's a cornerstone of health. It will make you feel better."

This wake-up drug is a member of a new class of medications called 'ampakines'. Because these drugs strengthen signals in the brain, studies are underway to see if they can also restore mental function in patients with dementia. That could have big implications for patients with Alzheimer's disease.

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