New treatment restores Alzheimer's brain function

12/3/2015

New treatment restores Alzheimer

Brain function and memory can be restored in elderly patients at risk of dementia due to Alzheimer's disease through a new therapeutic approach. 

Researchers at John Hopkins University have found a drug typically used in the treatment of epilepsy can calm hyperactivity in the brains of those with amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI).

It is a clinically recognised condition that results in a greater-than-expected memory impairment for a person's age - aMCI also greatly increases the risk of Alzheimer's dementia developing. 

This backs up the initial conclusions made by scientists at the institution three years ago, while the findings also match numerous tests carried out on animals. It also raises prospects of a large-scale, longer-term clinical trial being held. 

Hippocampal over-activity is a typical symptom of people with aCMI, and this is itself an indicator of further cognitive decline in the future and progression to Alzheimer's dementia.

Lead investigator Michela Gallagher said very low doses of atypical antiepileptic levetiracetam can reduce this over-activity and also improve memory performance when tasks are dependent on the hippocampus. 

"What we want to discover now, is whether treatment over a longer time will prevent further cognitive decline and delay or stop progression to Alzheimer's dementia," she added.

A total of 87 subjects were studied - 17 were perfectly healthy and the rest suffered from aCMI. Everyone was over 55 years old, with the average age of the group 70. They took part in a double-blind randomised trial, with varying doses of the drug administered alongside a placebo. 

Low doses were found to improve memory performance, while the ideal dosing level matched up with earlier preclinical studies in animal models. The study appears in the latest edition of the journal NeuroImage: Clinical.

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