(Jackson, Wyo.) - Yesterday, the Jackson-based Institute for EthnoMedicine
released a study that identifies a possible
cause as well as a possible prevention for neurodegenerative illnesses, or
diseases the affect the human brain like Alzheimer’s disease, ALS and
The study, which was published yesterday in the science journal *Proceedings
of the Royal Society B, *indicates that chronic exposure to an
environmental toxin may increase risk of neurodegenerative illness.
In a release issued today, the organization explains that brain tangles and
amyloid deposits are the hallmarks of both Alzheimer’s disease and an
unusual illness suffered by Chamorro villagers on the Pacific Island of
Guam, whose diet is contaminated by the environmental toxin BMAA. Pacific
Islanders with this unusual condition also suffer from dementia and
symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s disease, ALS and Parkinson’s disease.
[image: Inline image 1]
*Screenshot of the Institute for EthnoMedicine from the video. Pitchengine
"The cause of neurodegenerative disease remains largely unknown, and the
role of environmental factors in these illnesses is poorly understood,"
states the release. "However, scientists have suspected a link between
BMAA, a neurotoxin found in some harmful algal blooms, and
To test their theory, the scientists with the Institute for EthnoMedicine
conducted two experiments on vervet monkeys. In the first experiment, the
monkeys were fed BMAA (the toxin) and developed the neurofibrillary tangles
and amyloid deposits similar to Pacific Islanders who died from the
disease. Monkeys fed equal amounts of L-BMAA and the dietary amino acid
L-serine had a reduced density of tangles, and the monkeys fed a placebo
dose did not develop neurologic issues.
“Our findings show that chronic exposure to BMAA can trigger
Alzheimer’s-like brain tangles and amyloid deposits,” said Paul Alan Cox,
Ph.D., an ethnobotanist at the Institute for EthnoMedicine and lead author
of the study. “As far as we are aware, this is the first time researchers
have been able to successfully produce brain tangles and amyloid deposits
in an animal model through exposure to an environmental toxin.”
After 140 days, tangles and amyloid deposits were found in the brain
tissues of all of the monkeys who consumed BMAA. However, there was a
significant reduction in the density of tangles in those that consumed
equal amounts of L-serine.
Cox does not advocate patients taking L-serine at this time. "The FDA has
not approved its use for the treatment of neurodegenerative illness, and
much more research is needed," he said. "However, this new animal model may
prove useful in evaluating other potential new Alzheimer's drugs."
The Institute has sponsored FDA-approved human clinical trials to study the
effects of the naturally-occurring amino acid L-serine in people with ALS,
and is working with Dartmouth Medical School to begin a Phase I human
clinical trial of L-serine for patients diagnosed with mild cognitive
impairment or early stage Alzheimer's disease.
Learn more about how these scientists developed the study in this video.
Co-authors of the study include David Davis, Ph.D. of the University of
Miami Brain Endowment Bank, James Metcalf, Ph.D., and Sandra Banack, Ph.D.,
at the Institute for EthnoMedicine.
*Feature Photo: Screenshot of the Institute for EthnoMedicine from the
video. Pitchengine Communities*