Institute for EthnoMedicine Pursues Novel Clues for ALS and Parkinson’s Disease

Mar 29, 2019 | ALS, Alzheimer, CNS

Institute for EthnoMedicine (the Institute) Brain Chemistry Labs is located in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Nestled next to the Tetons—a spectacular view—Rocky Mountain air and fresh mountain forest combines to awaken one to the possibilities of another and better path. Partially because they have already arrived there.

Enter Executive Director Paul Alan Cox, PhD, who notes, “our findings show that chronic exposure to BMAA can trigger Alzheimer’s-like brain tangles and amyloid deposits. As far as we are aware, this is the first time researchers have been able to successfully replicate brain tangles and amyloid deposits in an animal model through exposure to an environmental toxin.”

The Institute has established a state-of-the-art laboratory and assembled a world class team of researchers dedicated to forging a new, novel path to discovery. Their mission is to find and fight causes of disease and to search for new cures from plants. Their project pipeline includes:

  • Development of L-serine as a possible new drug for ALS
  • Development of Prostratin as a new drug for HIV/AIDS
  • Studying cyanobacterial toxins throughout the world

The team found a high incidence of ALS in the people inhabiting remote Pacific island villages. This discovery has led to a reconsideration of BMAA—a toxic amino acid—as a possible trigger for certain neurodegenerative illnesses in genetically vulnerable individuals. The Institute’s team and collaborators have uncovered that BMAA is produced by Cyanobacteria which occurs throughout the world. What are a Cyanobacteria? Also known as Cyanophyta, they are a phylum of bacteria that obtain their energy through photosynthesis. They are the only photosynthetic prokaryotes capable of producing oxygen.

The Institute has developed techniques to detect BMAA at extremely low concentrations in water supplies and human tissues. Their new research demonstrates that BMAA causes brain tangles and β-amyloid deposits in the brain, two features that are diagnostic of Alzheimer’s disease and present in several other neurodegenerative diseases. The focus to date has been on sporadic ALS and if BMAA, which also serves as an environmental trigger for ALS. The research will help identify those individuals who are vulnerable to cyanobacterial toxin. The team searches for new ALS therapies based on BMAA research.

Paul Cox founded the Institute. A botanist and conservationist, he has been active in far flung parts of the globe working for good—from achieving a 1997 Goldman Environmental Prize for rain forest preservation efforts in Samoa, to discovering natural compound from a Polynesian mamala tree that can activate against HIV and prostratin. Cox and Sandra Banack met along the way. While studying Guam’s fruit bats and cycads (ancient seed-bearing plants that resemble palms), Cox pointed to major question as reported by the Pacific Standard: “Could cyanobacteria cause neurodegenerative diseases such as ALS, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s?”

Lead Research/Investigator

Paul Cox



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