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Epilepsy drug tested on people with Alzheimer's disease

20/01/2020

An Oxford research team has launched a six-month trial to assess whether an anti-epilepsy drug can help to treat memory loss in patients with Alzheimer's disease.

The study, which is being led by Dr Arjune Sen of the University of Oxford's Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences, is being carried out by Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust.

The study is known as ILiAD (Investigation of Levetiracetam in Alzheimer's Disease).

People with Alzheimer's disease may have seizures, as well as exhibiting abnormal brainwave activity without having obvious seizures. Seizures may contribute to the loss of nerve cells, and abnormal brainwave activity can disrupt thinking and memory. 

Tests using mice have shown that the anti-epileptic drug Levetiracetam can reduce abnormal brainwave activity and reverse memory deficits. The drug can also improve memory difficulties seen in people with mild cognitive impairment, a pre-cursor to Alzheimer's disease. 

Levetiracetam could, therefore, represent a promising, cheap and safe treatment to help with memory difficulties in Alzheimer's disease.
The team will allocate 30 patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease with no history of a previous seizure to initially receive either Levetiracetam or a placebo, before the groups 'cross over' so that the participants who initially received Levetiracetam are then given placebo and vice-versa.

Patients will have a straightforward, non-invasive test called an electroencephalogram to look at their brainwave activity at the start of the study, as there may be brainwave markers that might help to predict which patients would benefit most from the drug.

Dr Sen's team will analyse the effect of Levetiracetam on memory in Alzheimer's disease using several standardised scales. They will use a cognitive screen test developed by Professor Masud Husain to better detect subtle improvements in thinking. 

If the study is successful, the next step would be to carry out a larger study to establish whether Levetiracetam may be a useful and cost-effective treatment for patients with Alzheimer's disease.

The trial is funded by the Medical Research Council's Confidence in Concept scheme.

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