Alzheimer’s Part 3: Cat and Mouse Search for good tests

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Courtesy of BBC News and CBS News

Right now, scientists are developing and testing many drugs to treat, ameliorate, and hopefully someday cure Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Usually learning and memory tests are the primary ways any treatment is measured and tested. Problem is, according to a review article on a study at the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford, these kinds of tests don’t deal with “episodic memory,” which is a person’s detailed personal memory of events, and the emotions and thoughts surrounding them. Episodic memory is most affected by AD. For a full explanation of episodic memory, I recommend looking at or The review article claimed a new way to test episodic memory and AD treatments.

A few different ways to supposedly test this episodic memory in mice were designed and outlined in this review article. I’ll focus on one. Although the tests may seem dry and dull, it’s important to remember how important this is. If the tests can measure what they say they can, we might be able to better develop medications to treat AD. The test I want to focus on is the burrowing test. The article describes that mice will burrow, or dig through materials (such as sand, soil, gravel, etc.) to make a nest. The observers will then measure the weight of the burrow and subtract it from the original weight of the materials at the beginning. Then they do it again.

No more explanation of how this tests the episodic memory was given. I’m not sure that it does test the episodic memory. Maybe you could argue that they’re looking to see if the mice draw on their previous burrowing experience when they create new ones. But why? Is the goal for the mice to burrow through more material? To burrow faster? This isn’t made clear. Even if it was clear, episodic memory is supposed to deal with people’s recollections of past events, and the memories and emotions they associate with all of them. I think that it’s a stretch to say that this burrowing test examines the precise details and emotions of a mouse’s memory.

While I think that this review article of the research makes a great point—that we need to develop tests that deal with episodic memory and not just basic learning and memory tests—I don’t think that the experiments in this study are sufficient examiners of the episodic memory. Give me your thoughts! Do you think this test measures episodic memory? Can you find another that does? I’ll keep searching.

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