Episode 8
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In this week’s episode, Jesse talks with Dr. Stephen Born, a pharmaceutical drug developer with an impressive background of study.  To complement degrees in Organic Chemistry and Synthetic Organic Chemistry through UC Santa Cruz, Berkeley and MIT, he has extensive knowledge and experience in human biochemistry and the pharmaceuticals industry.

Dr. Born discusses a range of topics with Jesse on the particular effects of Sulbutiamine and the motivation for its initial development, the Human Genome Project’s impact on the practices of research and synthetic drug development, and the human blood-brain barrier.

How Japanese Sailors Discovered the Need for a Synthetic Vitamin B1

During WW1, Japanese sailors began to experience symptoms like loss of mental sharpness and fatigue.  These turned out to be symptoms of a disease called Beriberi, caused by a deficiency of Vitamin B1 (Thiamine).

To combat these effects, the Japanese sought to develop a version of Vitamin B1 that lasted longer and reached the brain more easily.  Because the blood-brain barrier – the thin safety membrane encasing your noggin – is highly polar, molecules that are non-polar can slip through quite easily. Decreasing the polarity of compounds to help them reach the brain has been a tactic known to scientists for a long time. The application of this tactic to Thiamine was to oxidize the substance without any other compounds present, creating a non-polar “dimer” of two bonded-together Thiamine molecules.  In this form (Sulbutiamine), the once-polar Thiamine skips much more easily into the brain.

The Human Genome Project’s Effect on Pharmaceuticals

The more we learn about the human body and its functions on a biochemical level, the more complex the system gets.  When it comes to designing drugs, researchers can now (rather easily) develop 3D models of drugs on a molecular level, and design their shapes to perform specific physiological tasks.  In theory. In practice, however, since we have layers of hidden complexities like redundant systems and continuous feedback loops in our biochemical processes, our bodies frequently have “work-arounds” to designed drugs that can bypass the intended effects.

Research now continues on an even deeper level than the human genome, delving into the composition and DNA coding for the Proteome, which is “one big crazy place” according to Dr. Born.  The doctor expresses some healthy skepticism that today’s “designer drug” methodology is any better than the “try it and see” method of fifty years ago, when a drug’s phenotypic affects were the gold standard of respectability, even if no one was quite sure how things worked.

Quick Tips From Dr. Born to Keep a Sharp, Focused Mind

Sulbutiamine (a synthetic, delivery-enhanced version of Vitamin B1) improves the brain’s ability to transmit intra-cranial messages, but does not necessarily improve long-term memory or analytical reasoning.  This is the stance Dr. Born holds, and he recommends the following to keep a sharp mind – perhaps in addition to Sulbutiamine:

  1. Maintain a stable supply of blood sugar throughout the day. Preferably something you cook from scratch, but eating generally healthy foods and not skipping meals is vital for a sharp, focused mind (not distracted by thinking about the next meal).
  2. Get up early in the morning.  Simple, but difficult.  Particularly if you are a student with homework, studies and late classes.  As a general trend, the efficiency of your brain to perform high level tasks such as focused work, decreases by half after 10pm.  Following a Circadian rhythm of rising with the sun and thinking about going to bed with the sunset is highly beneficial to productivity and focus levels. Coupled with an occasional workout regimen, these two tips will help you stay focused on your tasks and not wander mentally to your next meal or how good your pillow would feel.

Dr. Born also recommends the book: The Organic Chemistry of Drug Design and Drug Action by Richard Silverman. This book discusses the specific components pharmaceutical companies test and consider when researching drugs, what the FDA requires, and everything involved in producing a drug for mass consumption.

Jesse the Self-Appointed Lab Rat…

Jesse has been taking 1600 milligrams per day of Piracetam for the last three weeks and the initial results are in… (Piracetam is often used by seniors to treat symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia, but has also been shown to have significant neurological benefits for younger subjects.)  After over 20 days of usage, the shocking truth is…

Jesse has felt nothing from the Piracetam. Not even a twinge of placebo effect. Nada, zip, zilch.

But the experiment continues, as Jesse’s supply of Piracetam is not yet empty, and the research on its benefits are solid enough to stick with it. More importantly for Smart Drug Smarts listeners, Jesse promises a “Racetam Family of Chemicals” episode in the near future.

This Week in Neuroscience: “Are UK Students Hooked On Smart Drugs?”

Adam Rathbone investigates whether cognitive enhancers or smart drugs have had the same level of widespread use in the UK as in the US among university students.  The article is a bit overly dramatic (hey, he’s a journalist), but here are some of the numbers from the study:

  • Only 8% of students polled had heard of the term “smart drugs”
  • After further discussion, 24% of students recognized the concept and had heard of smart drugs, albeit maybe under a different name
  • 6% have used these types of drugs
  • 46% said they might try smart drugs, if the chance or need arose

Read the full article here.

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