Pilot study of low-dose radiation to help AD patients
January 22, 2020
TORONTO – Baycrest Health Sciences and Sunnybrook Health Sciences are piloting a study of a novel therapy for Alzheimer’s dementia that uses low doses of ionizing radiation, such as X-rays, to stimulate brain functioning. A CT scanner is employed to provide the treatments, using normal diagnostic exposures.
Each candidate, who has severe dementia, receives three treatments and is subsequently evaluated for cognition, memory and behaviour changes. In 2019, five Baycrest patients were treated and the observations have been encouraging.
One of the investigators is Dr. Jerry Cuttler (pictured), who has a DSc in nuclear sciences. He was employed by Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd from 1974 until 2000 to design and support the construction and operation of 25 CANDU reactors in Canada and abroad. He is also an expert in radiation sciences, and since 1995 has been collaborating with medical scientists and radiobiologists on applications of radiation in medical therapies.
Dr. Cuttler notes that in the first half of the 20th century, hundreds of thousands of patients received treatments that stimulated their own natural protection systems against many different types of diseases, including cancers and infections.
Dr. Cuttler is the author of a new article, titled “Application of Low Doses of Ionizing Radiation in Medical Therapies,” which appears in the January 2020 edition of Dose-Response: An International Journal. (https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1559325819895739)
In it, he presents evidence of the existence of dose thresholds and dose-rate thresholds. If exposures exceed these thresholds, then risks of harmful effects start to increase. But, if treatments with X-rays are provided that are below these thresholds, adaptive natural protection systems are stimulated.
They start to work harder against internal agents, such as oxidative stress, and external agents, such as toxins, pathogens, radiation and physical injuries. Natural protection systems produce antioxidants that prevent oxidative damage. They also repair damage to DNA and other biomolecules, scavenge damaged cells, destroy mutated cells, kill pathogens and restore health. Important health improvements can be expected after low-dose radiation treatments, writes Dr. Cuttler.
Recently, impressive results have been achieved by medical scientists in Japan using low doses of radiation to combat various types of cancers, including prostate and breast cancer. The therapy has also been used with good results to treat ulcerative colitis inflammation and autoimmune diseases.
The current Baycrest-Sunnybrook study was undertaken to repeat the treatments that were given in 2015 to save the life of an 81-year-old woman who was in hospice. A case report was published about the improvements that were observed in her cognition, memory, speech, movement and appetite. After treatments using CT radiation, she was moved to a mental care home with a stimulating day-care program.
In the Alzheimer’s trial in Toronto, the patients receive the same three treatments that were given to the patient who was treated in 2015. The first CT session delivers a total X-ray dose of 80 mGy (milligray) to the brain. The second, two weeks later, is a single CT scan that provides a dose of 40 mGy, and the third, two weeks later, is also a single scan.
Dr. Cuttler transports each patient, with a family member, in a wheelchair taxi from Baycrest to Sunnybrook, as Baycrest does not have a CT scanner. Taking the patient, providing the treatment, and returning the patient takes only two hours.
The protocol specifies objective tests to evaluate changes in patient condition. In addition, subjective evidence from observations by family members is collected. For example, Dr. Cuttler said, “After a reminiscence by family members on her life history, one patient exclaimed, ‘Don’t give away all the family secrets!’”
The phase one clinical trial will be completed soon. Most of the facts and observations collected have been subjective because patients with severe dementia do not readily respond to strangers. If the investigators agree that this method of treatment is effective in producing improvement in cognition, memory, speech and other symptoms, Dr. Cuttler would like further studies to be carried out to find the optimal treatment protocol and a low cost therapeutic device instead of a CT scanner.
“It’s not the image that we’re after,” he said. “It’s the radiation. That’s what stimulates recovery in the patient. We should track biological markers of oxidative damage and neurodegeneration during therapy. Ultimately, we want a treatment that would delay the onset of Alzheimer’s in people who are at risk.”
On the topic of using ionizing radiation in the treatment of AD, Dr. Cuttler also published this earlier article: https://www.acsh.org/news/2017/05/11/case-study-treating-alzheimers-disease-ct-scans-11263.