Researcher says UOG trying to censor report linking Guam’s brain diseases to toxic metals
By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Variety News Staff
THE environment of Guam has high concentrations of toxic metals that cause the high prevalence of clinically distinct and deadly brain diseases on island, according to a report by a researcher at the University of Guam.
Dr. Luis Szyfres said the type of neurodegenerative disorders found on Guam such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS and Parkinsonism-dementia complex or PDC “are not found anywhere else on the planet.”
“For 40 years, researchers from the mainland have been harvesting Chamorro brains and blood samples from Guam but local residents are not informed of what has been discovered. Toxic metals were found in those brains,” Szyfres said, alleging that there is a conspiracy to cover up the scientific findings.
Szyfres alleges that UOG president Harold Allen is blocking his attempt to have the report published in a national scientific journal. He alleges that Allen refused to renew his contract with the UOG Cancer Research Center, and asked him to either “stop my research” or “fly out of Guam.”
Allen could not be reached for comment at press time.
“The U.S. used Guam as a dumpsite for chemicals. The local government, including the Guam Environmental Protection Agency, has knowledge about these findings, but there’s an effort to cover this up. Chamorro natives are simply being used as guinea pigs but are never offered any medical assistance,” Szyfres said at yesterday’s meeting with Guam activists at the Angel Santos Park in Hagatna.
Szyfres’s allegedly censored report is a compilation of scientific findings and information found in scientific literature on human studies of motor neuron diseases related to environmental risk factors.
The report, which also made reference to information found in the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, concluded that ALS and related neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson dementia complex or PD have “high prevalence among the native Chamorro population of Guam,” afflicting patients between 46 and 52 years old.
Studies found that the average age of affected patients on Guam is much younger than those in other countries.
Szyfres compared Guam cases with similar studies conducted in Texas, England, Scotland and Italy.
“The ALS/Parkinson dementia complex observed in these communities is clinically distinct from classical ALS,” the report says.
Studies found that ALS/PD patients on Guam often simultaneously acquire symptoms or pathological characteristics similar to Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Among the symptoms of these neurological disorders, also known as Lytico Bodig, are rigid muscles, a marked stoop, slow speech and forgetfulness, hand tremors and dementia.
Studies conducted at Mount Sinai School of Medicine’s Kastor Neurobiology of Aging Laboratories in New York found that the primary motor cortex in Guamanian cases “contains high numbers of neurofibrillary tangles, contrasting sharply with the situation in non-Chamorro cases of ALS.”
“These data suggest that the regional and cellular pathology of Guamanian cases differs radically from that commonly observed in neurodegenerative diseases outside Guam and point to the existence of subgroups in the spectrum of clinical manifestations seen in Guamanian patients,” the report says.
Researchers say the most plausible hypothesis on the cause of brain diseases centers on imbalances in essential and toxic metals. Scientists say heavy exposure to metals, which are known to have neurotoxic properties, can cause neurological disturbances.
“We have determined the concentrations of cadmium, cobalt, copper, iron, manganese, rubidium, vanadium, and zinc in formalin-fixed brain tissue collected during the period 1979-1983 from eight Guamanian patients with ALS, four with PDC, and five control subjects,” the report says.
Studies found that over the past 40 years, the incidence of ALS/PCD in high risk areas such as Guam “has decreased substantially to rates that are only slightly higher than other regions of the world.”
“These dramatic changes in disease incidence suggest the influence of an environmental factor that has been altered over time. These foci have been investigated extensively in the hopes of identifying environmental risk factors that may account for the elevated risk among these populations,” the report says.
Lytico Bodig on Guam was first reported in January 2003 by the French wire agency, Agence France Presse, in an article titled “Guam’s Terrifying Brain Disease.”
“The disease was first identified by U.S. military doctors stationed on the island. ALS-PDS attracts intense scientific interest because it is regarded as key to finding a cure to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease,” AFP said.
Szyfres said it is not exactly the brain disease that attracts the national scientific community’s intense interest on Guam.
He said researchers are rather particularly interested on Guam, “the place were they can harvest the brains and blood of the native people for the key to finding a cure to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.”
“The national or local government never informed the blood-harvested Chamorros of the results of the tests performed on their own blood, and the government does not care about the source of the toxic chemicals,” he added.