Preventing Alzheimer’s and Slowing ALS: The Focus of Jackson Hole Medical Research Non-Profit

Brain Chemistry Labs is breaking rules and shattering the mold of how medical research is done.

And they’re doing it solely with small grants and private donations.

Dr. Sandra Banack, senior scientist at Brain Chemistry Labs.

What began as work focused on the motor neuron disease ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) has been led by research to include Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

“I think we can change the world,” said Sandra Banack, senior scientist and ethnobotanist.

“What we’re doing takes a fraction of the time and a fraction of the cost,” she said.

Their work examines what is happening to people and what can be done about it.

“We’re close to a prevention, and I think that’s better than a cure.”    – Dr. Rachael Dunlop

Research shows that chronic exposure to the neurotoxin BMAA (β-Methylamino-L-alanine) found in cyanobacteria (also known as blue-green algae and most often pointed out by someone in my family as “that green stuff” on lakes and ponds) is a potential risk for neurodegenerative illnesses.

So they are testing and working with an amino acid called L-Serine that may counter BMAA and appears to be neuroprotective in its own right.

BMAA Surrounds Us

“We know that human health is related to environmental health,” Dr. Banack said.

People come into contact with BMAA through contaminated seafood and freshwater fish — possibly grains if they are watered by contaminated water.

And it can be in the air we breathe.

“Found in habitats ranging from the hot pools of Yellowstone to the deserts of the middle east to the middle of the oceans, cyanobacteria are nearly ubiquitous on the earth’s surface.” – Brain Chemistry Labs’ website

“This is like a slow toxin and a silent killer in a sense because we don’t know that it’s in the water that we’re drinking.

“We don’t know that it’s in the food that we’re eating.

“But we do know that it can cause neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s,” said senior research fellow, Rachael Dunlop, in the film Toxic Puzzle.

But hope is on the horizon.

“I think we can change the world,”  – Dr. Banack

Can L-Serine Forestall Alzheimer’s?

What’s already been shown in Phase I clinical trials is that L-Serine is safe for ALS patients to take at doses as high as 30 grams per day.

The data suggest that L-Serine can slow down the progression of ALS by as much as 85%.

“Our research also suggests that L-Serine may be able to push off the onset of Alzheimer’s, but there are still many experiments to do,” Dr. Banack said.

Currently L-Serine is accessible as an inexpensive and safe supplement.

And it is found in abundance in foods like sweet potatoes and soy products.

Alzheimer’s impacts millions of patients and even more family members, so the swift work of Brain Chemistry Labs matters.

Because of the positive results shown in Phase I clinical trials, the FDA has fast tracked L-Serine into Phase II Alzheimer’s trials.

The swift work of Brain Chemistry Labs matters greatly.

Alzheimer’s impacts millions of patients and even more family members.

And for ALS patients any slow down in progression translates to hope.

Once diagnosed, life expectancy averages 2.5 years.

The urgency is understood in Jackson where the time from research to clinical trials has only taken about five years.

That nimbleness is more than surprising to those of us who know the legend of drug development exceeding decades and costing billions of dollars.

Non-Profit Medical Research

Drs. Sandra Banack and Rachael Dunlop

The lean research team has fewer meetings and less bureaucracy, and that’s appealing to the scientists who work and answer the phones at Brain Chemistry Labs.

To join the research team, Sandra Banack gave up tenure-for-life in the California State University system.

And similarly, Dr. Dunlop left a Sydney, Australia university position and moved to Jackson.

“The possibilities were too big to turn down,” Dr. Banack said.

“We’re not beholden to stock holders or the stock exchange.

“It’s a different model from anything else that’s been done,” she said.

“We owe it to society to give something back,” Dr. Dunlop said.

“We exchange wisdom and pool it to solve problems.”
– Dr. Sandra Banack

Yet the work isn’t limited to this small group in northwestern Wyoming.

The Jackson team collaborates with more than 50 scientists in 28 disciplines worldwide.

“We exchange wisdom and pool it to solve problems,” Dr. Banack said.

Dr. Dunlop said, “We’re close to a prevention, and I think that’s better than a cure.”

Asked if what they’ve learned has changed their eating habits, Dr. Banack said, “I don’t eat seafood anymore.”

And Dr. Dunlop has increased her intake of soy — edamame, in particular — that she said is loaded with L-Serine.

My first order of the supplement should be here any day.

Take Action!

•  Donate to Brain Chemistry Labs.

•  Absolutely watch the 80-minute documentary, Toxic Puzzle, about BMAA, L-Serine, research and the founder of Brain Chemistry Labs, Paul Cox.

•  View Brain Chemistry Labs’ website.

•  Read a number of newspaper articles about this work.

•  See Paul Cox’s, TedX talk.

•  Read related research articles:

“Mapping amyotrophic lateral sclerosis lake risk factors across northern New England,” Nathan Torbick et al, International Journal of Health Geographics, 2014; 13: 1, (

“Phase I clinical trial of safety of L-serine for ALS patients,” T.D. Levine, et al., Feb 18, 2017, (

“Traditional Food Items in Ogimi, Okinawa: l-Serine Content and the Potential for Neuroprotection,” Paul Cox and James Metcalf, Current Nutrition Reports, 2017; 6(1): 24–31, (

•  Previous posts of interest: Civility Leads Climate Discussion and  Charity and Social Justice:  “Distinct but Complimentary”

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Ellen Synakowski (she/her/hers) lives in Laramie, Wyoming. She is a HeartMath Certified Trainer and Coach, and certified through HeartMath to administer the Stress and Well-being Assessment tool; A Connection Practice Trainer, a Trainer’s Trainer, and Coach; and a Registered Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapist (RCST®). Her website is

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.  — C. West

Rooted in Wyoming Supports School and Community Gardens, Fresh Air, and Digging in Dirt

At Rooted in Wyoming, where school and community gardens grow, there’s no substitute for kids being outside in fresh air and digging in the dirt.

“It gives them keen self-awareness,” said Bonnie Gregory, volunteer executive director of this Sheridan-based nonprofit that funds and encourages school and community gardens.

“The problems of the world could be solved at the dinner table.”

And  gardens are laboratories and classrooms combined. “We get to explore history, math, science, and critical thinking skills,” she explained.

Building a garden in Sheridan, Wyoming

“We’re trying to hold onto the historical appreciation for our agricultural state while we teach self-sufficiency.”

Rooted in Wyoming offers support and momentum, but the gardens themselves belong to the students.

“They design and name them.

“They decide what to plant and how they’re going to water and maintain them through the summer.

“Do they share crop or take the produce to farmers’ markets? It’s up to them,” she said.

Even early-education students get to take home grow kits and work alongside elders as multiple generations frequently tend the gardens together.

“The problems of the world could be solved at the dinner table,” Bonnie said.

Yet she’s amazed at how many children aren’t sitting with their families, eating healthy food and getting asked, “How was your day?”

In this northern Wyoming town, moms and dads, grandparents, teachers and children work to give community members something to be proud of.

“When you get people invested and working toward a goal, that’s where you effect change,” Bonnie said.

Rooted in Wyoming

Take Action!

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Ellen Synakowski lives in Laramie, Wyoming. Her website is

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.1  — C. West

Sweet Melissa Vegetarian Café in Laramie: Few Plastic Straws and No Animals Sacrificed

Sweet Melissa vegetarian cafeIn 1999 Melissa Murphy didn’t know if a Wyoming vegetarian restaurant would last.

Nineteen years later on a family visit to Laramie, the first, second and even third food recommendations we solicited unanimously pointed to Sweet Melissa.

“And I’m not even a vegetarian! . . .” punctuated each endorsement.

Researchers at Carnegie Melon University found that eliminating meat one day a week has the same effect on greenhouse gas emissions as cutting 1,000 miles of driving a year.5

Vegetarian and no straws – environmental act

“A vegetarian restaurant is an environmental act,” Melissa said.

And in a similar way, so are her recent efforts to reduce plastic straws and water use.

One straw at a time, Melissa is cutting back on the 500 million plastic straws used and discarded each day in the United States.

Yet weaning café customers and staff off plastic straws has been a three-year process, she noted.*

Still, one straw at a time, Melissa is cutting back on the 500 million plastic straws used and discarded each day in the United States. 6

Other environmental acts at Sweet Melissa include a commitment to recycling that began in 1999.

Additionally, they participate in composting through the Acres Student Farm7 at the University of Wyoming.

And take-out cups and food containers are now corn-based versus petroleum.

When asked to define social justice, Melissa quoted a Unitarian Universalist principle: “The inherent worth and dignity of every person.”

“. . . and animals,” she added.

Melissa Murphy owner of vegetarian restaurant
Sweet Melissa Vegetarian Cafe owner, Melissa Murphy.


no straw, thanks!

For more information on plastic straws
please see the blog resource page.

Read about food rescue in Jackson.

*for now plastic straws are used on the Tavern side.

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Ellen Synakowski lives in Laramie, Wyoming.
Her website is

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.1  Cornell West


Hole Food Rescue Feeds 1,000 Hungry People Weekly in Jackson, Wyoming

Hole Food Rescue logo

Hole Food Rescue (HFR) founder and co-executive director, Ali Dunford,, is joy personified as she describes the one million pounds of food saved by her organization since 2013.

“It’s just the right thing to do. The right way to treat each other and the planet,” she said.

Her early days in Jackson included dumpster diving for goods discarded by grocery stores.

And what she found was high quality and plentiful. “It was an injustice,” she said.

“The flip side of waste is using something fully and respecting the planet and all the resources that go into the things we eat.”

With the support of 90 volunteers working seven days a week, HFR collects more than 5,000 pounds of edible items a week from local grocery stores and bakeries.

In turn, 31 recipient organizations take the fruit, vegetables, breads and dairy products and prepare or distribute this nutrients to at-risk and in-need clients including seniors, youth and families.

What can’t be used is given to a local pig farm.

“The flip side of waste is using something fully
and respecting the planet and all the resources
that go into the things we eat.”

Food insecurity in Teton

A 2015 Teton Public Health report2 found nearly 3,000 (13.5%) food insecure residents, a term that means “lacking reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.”3

In Wyoming, 1 in 8 adults experience hunger and 1 in 6 children are food insecure.4

Though Teton is one of the wealthiest counties in the nation, much of its population works in the service industry. Between the high cost of housing, low hourly wages and off-season layoffs, families struggle.

Dunford said any town — small or large — that has a grocery store has waste, and you can be sure there’s also food insecurity, though it’s not always obvious.

She says HFR’s part in social justice isn’t just about providing food; it’s about offering nutritious food.

“We don’t rescue highly-processed nor junk food,” she said. “It’s not going to serve our clients, and our goal is to empower them.”

Ali Dunford
Ali Dunford, founder and co-executive director, at Hole Food Rescue in Jackson, WY

More About Hole Food Rescue and Additional Resources
•  HFR is a 501(C)3 nonprofit organization
•  They welcomes volunteers and donations
•  Their website is beautiful and fun
•  You can see Ali and HFR featured in a public television story
•  Interested in rescue in your town? Here’s the guidebook Ali used.
•  See if there’s a rescue organization near you.
•  Read the blog post, Rooted in Wyoming, that looks at school gardens in Sheridan.

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Ellen Webster Synakowski lives in Laramie, Wyoming. Her website is:

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.”1  Cornell West