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Dr Arjune Sen is leading a new six-month trial funded by the MRC Confidence in Concept scheme. The study is known as IliAD (Investigation of Levetiracetam in Alzheimer's Disease).

Jigsaw puzzle of a brain with a missing piece © Shutterstock

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. This abnormal electrical activity is therefore a potentially important drug target.

A mouse model has 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 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. 

The study is being conducted by Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust and Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, with the drug and placebo being provided by UCB Pharma.

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.

For more information, contact Dr Arjune Sen.

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