John Hopkins University Researchers may have found a new drug to treat memory loss in Alzheimer’s patients. A study reported in NeuroImage:Clinical documents the potential for low doses of antiepileptic levetiracetam to halt the progression to dementia—one of the worse outcomes of Alzheimer’s disease.
Quieting the brain can improve cognitive functioning
Levetiracetam is a drug used to treat epilepsy. It works by quieting hyperactivity in the brain. Sustained hyperactivity in the brain causes the epileptic seizure. Hyperactivity in the Hippocampal area of the brain has been found to cause amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI). Patients with aMCI tend to experience memory loss at a much higher level and earlier in age than would normally be the case. Further, aMCI has been proven to be a predictor of ultimate advancement to Alzheimer’s disease. Therefore, researchers wanted to discover if using an existing drug known to calm the brain in epileptics might also impact cognitive impairment.
Levetiracetam improves memory
The research study consisted of a total of 84 subjects in a double-blind random trial. Seventeen of the subjects were in the control group. The remainder were already showing symptoms of pre-dementia memory loss. Various levels of the drug were administered, as well as a placebo. Patients were asked to complete tasks while an MRI scan monitored brain activity. The results were very encouraging. The MRI scan showed that as the drug diminished hyperactivity in the hippocampus, memory improved. When given low doses of levetiracetam those cognitive tasks that rely on the hippocampus were more easily accomplished.
Promise of a brighter future
Next step for researchers us to determine if long-term use of the drug can halt further cognitive decline, and most importantly, if it will save the patient from Alzheimer’s disease. For the millions of Alzheimer’s disease sufferers, a drug that will allow them to hold on to their memories will be an incredible turning point for them and their families.