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.
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
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.
• 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, (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3922844/?report=classic#).
“Phase I clinical trial of safety of L-serine for ALS patients,” T.D. Levine, et al., Feb 18, 2017, (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27589995#).
“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, (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5343079/).
• 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 EllenSynakowski.com.
“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.” — C. West