An inherited learning disability similar to autism – called Fragile X – could one day be treated with a pill, a new study suggests.

Using an experimental drug originally designed to treat cancer, researchers in the US found they were able to restore the memories of mice genetically engineered to have the currently incurable condition.

Fragile X is the most common form of inherited learning disability, affecting about one boy in 4,000 and one girl in 6,000.

Symptoms include a short attention span, over-activity, speech problems, extreme shyness and anxiety in social situations. However, those with the condition also tend to have a sense of humour and to be particularly sensitive to other people’s feelings.

The disability is caused by the mutation of a particular gene involved in the creation of memories. The researchers deleted that gene in the mice – making them forgetful – but then seem to have managed to completely restore their memory by giving them the cancer drug, called Nutlin-3.

While the research was carried out in mice, it is thought the drug could have a similar effect in humans.

The lead researcher, Professor Xinyu Zhao, who has been working on Fragile X for about a decade, stressed they were “a long way from declaring a cure” for Fragile X but described the results as “promising”.

“I’m just excited that maybe our basic research — in the lab, in the test tube and animal models – may yield information that will eventually help people,” she told The Independent.

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