Samples of Old Algae May Offer Clues Regarding Neurodegenerative Diseases

For over five years, scientists at Brain Chemistry Labs worked with the University of Dundee and the Natural History Museum in London. Interested in century-old samples of cyanobacteria, they hope to support the fight against Alzheimer’s and Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Collected from the Antarctic in 1902, these cyanobacteria samples offer more than a deeper understanding of history. Based on the toxins found in these samples, including toxins that are linked to neurodegeneration and liver cancer, the scientists wanted to understand past and current levels of exposure.

Analyzing Preserved Samples of Cyanobacteria

Preserved for more than 100 years, samples of cyanobacteria have been tested to support the future of medicine. The full analysis was published in the European Journal of Phycology.

By analyzing these historic samples, the researchers were able to provide a baseline for levels of cyanobacteria in Antarctica, prior to any human activity. Although the researchers were interested in understanding exposure, at the very least, they were happy to study the effects of pollution and climate change in relation to human health.

It is believed that low-level exposure to cyanobacteria, may account for a low, yet constant rate of disease. This has been documented in people living in Guam, who were exposed to a cyanobacterial toxin. Since cyanobacteria blooms have increased in frequency and duration, this may help explain an increase of neurodegenerative diseases.

In more recent years, the same cyanobacteria that were collected more than 100 years ago have caused dangerous levels of toxins. In 2014, over half a million Toledo, Ohio residents did not have access to drinking water. Then in 2016, algae blooms took over Utah Lake and the St. Lucie River in Florida.

What is interesting is that these are the same organisms that were recovered during Robert Falcon Scott’s historic expedition. Although this area was pristine and unaffected by industry, this type of bacteria was still there. This means that there does appear to be a background amount of toxin exposure in humans.

Could these environmental variables impact human genetics and in turn, the development of disease? As these researchers continue to unlock clues, they believe that alpine, polar, and mountain environments should be tested as scientists and organizations continue to share data.

Bacteria Found in the Brains of Alzheimer’s Patients

In an unrelated study, researchers found bacteria in the post-mortem brains of patients with Alzheimer’s. Using DNA sequencing, they were able to analyze the possible causes of neuroinflammation in the brain. More specifically, the potential impact of bacteria.

Although the brain is typically protected by the blood-brain barrier, certain genetic risk factors may cause blood vessels to lose some of their integrity. At this point, bacteria in the blood would be able to enter the brain and colonize.

This led researchers to study bacterial populations in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients as well as healthy controls. Collecting six healthy and eight Alzheimer’s brain samples from a medical research brain bank, the researchers used NGS technology to analyze specific bacterial genes.

What they found was that Alzheimer’s brains showcased different proportions of specific bacteria in comparison to healthy controls. In fact, when compared to healthy controls, the brains of Alzheimer’s patients displayed on average, a 7-fold increase in bacterial sequences.

This increase in bacteria may cause an inflammatory response, contributing to cognitive decline. Further work is required to better understand if bacteria is involved in neurodegeneration. These findings were published in Frontiers.

A Collaborative Effort Will Be Required Around the Globe

While studying the latest Alzheimer’s research, it can sometimes appear as though there are more questions than answers. Being such a complex disease, each study provides another piece to the puzzle. However, a cure will not likely be found by one researcher or even one organization.

In order to truly combat this disease, researchers from around the globe will need to work together. Although one’s research is often private, Alzheimer’s is often the exception to this rule. Scientists and organizations are so determined to beat this disease, that collaborations are ongoing around the world.

This is also why annual conventions are held, allowing experts to share what they have discovered. The Alzheimer’s Association International Conference is a prime example. Here, international clinicians, investigators, and care providers meet and share the latest research, as well as any developing theories.

AAIC 2018 will be held from July 22-26, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. Here are the highlights from AAIC 2017, including data on the self-administered eSAGE test, also known as BrainTest®. This app has been shown to effectively detect cognitive impairments (specificity 90 percent).

Want to learn more? You can read all about the science behind eSAGE test here.


Krista Hillis has a B.A.Sc degree, specializing in neuroscience and psychology. She is actively involved in the mental health and caregiving community, aiming to help others. Krista is also passionate about nutrition and the ways in which lifestyle choices affect and influence the human brain.

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