NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — New research from Rutgers University could help scientists in their quest to identify drugs that could “prevent” dementia, according to the school.

Rutgers scientists published their findings on a “molecular pathway” in the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory this month in the journal Cell Reports. Using mice in a laboratory, they saw that a protein called CRTC1 could boost memory by controlling how cells respond to changes in the body, according to the university.

“There is a potential that this could help with memory in the human brain, said Gleb Shumyatsky, an associate professor in Rutgers’ genetics department and a co-author of the report. “This work may provide scientists with answers and therapeutic help in the future for those going through normal aging or suffering from dementia.”

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The CRTC1 protein strengthened the mice’s memories, he added, the longer the protein remained in the brain.

Mice and humans share similar memory processes, he said.

The protein in question also controls “essential brain functions,” growth, survival, tissue maintenance and regeneration, according to Rutgers.

Mice found to have better memories were able to learn at a higher “intensity,” according to the school.

Until this point, researchers haven’t found any biological problems that could be treated to combat age-related memory loss and conditions like Alzheimer’s, according to the school. Shumyatsky thinks learning about molecular pathways in the brain could offer answers.

Outside the laboratory, of course, conditions like dementia take a strong toll on patients and their loved ones. Industry groups estimate that 5.4 million Americans lived with Alzheimer’s in 2016.

“Memory decline brings much suffering to the affected individuals and their families and leads to staggering social and economic costs,” said Shumyatsky, who co-authored the paper with Shusaku Uchida.