CBS NEWS: Algae bloom toxin linked to Alzheimer's, other diseases

CBS News: Written by Amy Kraft. January 21, 2016.

In the late 1990s, Paul Alan Cox, Ph.D., an ethnobotanist currently at the Institute for EthnoMedicine in Jackson Hole, Wyo. and colleagues, began traveling to the Pacific island of Guam to interview Chamorro villagers who were suffering from a disease that was similar to Parkinson's, ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) and Alzheimer's disease. The mysterious illness was first noticed by the U.S. military in the 1950's. Yet 20 years of research didn't turn up any clues.

Dr. Leonard Kurland, a neurologist at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) at the time, found that although the disease was prevalent in a few remote villages, there was no clear pattern of inheritance. Dr. Ralph Garruto, also at NIH then, observed that when outsiders moved in with Chamorro families, they could also develop the disease.

"Our field work was sort of like reading an Agatha Christie novel. Who is the murderer?" Cox told CBS News. "We knew that other peoples on Guam, including the Filipinos, the Caroline islanders, U.S. military personnel, and expatriate Japanese did not get the disease, only the Chamorro villagers.

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