Dr Rachael A Dunlop, based at the University of Technology Sydney is interested in sporadic MND and the links to a toxin found in blue green algae. Here she writes about her research:
Back in 1963, researchers descended into the jungles of the South Pacific island of Guam looking for the causes of a strange neurodegenerative disease that manifested as a combination of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and MND. The condition, known locally as lytico bodig, manifested as weakness, wasting, and then paralysis of the arms and legs resulting in patients becoming bed-bound, with difficulty breathing, speaking or swallowing. It occurred at 50-100 times the levels of MND seen in the general population and had decimated the local people. A search for a genetic connection quickly turned up nothing so the researchers went in search of an environmental trigger.
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A toxin known as β-N-methylamino-l-alanine (BMAA), which is found in blue-green algae, has been shown to cause proteins inside cells to clump together and cause cell death.
This finding suggests that BMAA may be a cause of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and MND and could lead to the development of new treatments.
What is BMAA?
BMAA is a non-protein amino acid. This means, that unlike the 20 amino acids that our bodies use to make proteins, it does not make a human protein.
BMAA is found in a type of bacteria called Cyanobacteria (more commonly known as blue-green algae), which are usually found in waterways as well as damp soil and on the roots of cycad plants.
Blue-green algae can occasionally cause algal blooms. This is when there is a rapid growth of organisms due to high levels of nutrients in the water. The resulting bloom can sometimes become so large that it can be toxic to wildlife.
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