TORONTO – A CT scan is usually used to diagnose a problem, not to treat it.
But Canadian scientists are using CT scans to test a provocative theory: Could low doses of radiation from scans actually help treat Alzheimer’s disease?
The results of a small pilot study found that patients who received repeated doses of low-dose radiation had improved cognition, speech and movement, with some being able to share moments with their families that they didn’t. hadn’t been able to do in years.
Dr Morris Freedman, head of the neurology division at the Baycrest Rotman Research Institute and one of the researchers behind the study, said the concept initially seemed far-fetched to him.
“The first reaction is that ‘this doesn’t seem to be a very effective treatment for Alzheimer’s disease,” he told CTV News. “But when I looked deeper and looked at the context of this suggestion, I thought it was worth doing a little pilot, to see if there was an effect.”
In what is considered a world first, researchers in the clinical pilot study gave four elderly people with severe Alzheimer’s disease three low-dose radiation treatments over a six-week period.
The amount of radiation in each dose was no more than what a person would receive in a clinical analysis.
Three of four patients improved after a single dose, with families reporting increased alertness, mobility and mood. The fourth patient, who saw no change, was the oldest included in the study, at 90 years old. The others were all 80 years old.
Among those who improved, one man was able to talk to his granddaughter on the phone and remember her name, read the signs posted on the wall aloud, and clap and sing at a concert. Another patient was described in the study as having had detailed conversations with her family about her past.
“She cried a few times,” the study said. “When asked if she was in pain or upset, she replied, ‘No, I am very happy. “
“The improvement was in the interaction, in the recognition,” Freedman explained. “A family member said that when a son entered the room [before this treatment], the patient did not respond, did not recognize that the person was there.
And after the delisting, they did.
Some 747,000 Canadians are living with Alzheimer’s disease or some other dementia, a progressive brain disease that cannot be cured.
Because there is no cure, treatments focus on restoring function in order to improve the quality of life of patients with Alzheimer’s disease.
However, the a large number of disease treatment drugs have failed.
Freedman noted that the patients they examined in the study, which was conducted in collaboration with Sunnybrook Health Sciences, had “very severe” Alzheimer’s disease.
“They had advanced Alzheimer’s disease, and any kind of improvement is significant, especially the kinds of improvements that result in family members awareness, interaction, memory recall. , a return to the behaviors that existed before – these things are very important ”. Freedman said. “And that really reflects their quality of life. So I think it’s quite significant. “
Another person who found the results exciting is Tammy, whose 87-year-old father Allan was part of the study.
Tammy, who asked us not to use her last name, recorded a video of her father before the treatment, and another after, showing the sudden and dramatic improvements.
“I made him clap his hands,” Tammy said. “He was more responsive, with yes and no.”
A great moment for her was hearing her father address her with more gratitude than he had done for a very long time.
“I can’t put it into words, it was truly a miracle,” she said. “He said ‘you came to see me’. I didn’t hear him speak, I can’t tell you how long it lasted.
Having this moment with her father was extremely important to her.
“It was really fair, other than the day my kids were born, just one of the happiest days of my life,” Tammy said.
Despite animal research and reports of cases where Alzheimer’s patients have improved after exposure to CT scans, many remain skeptical, according to Jerry Cuttler, lead author of the Baycrest-Sunnybrook study and nuclear engineer who has already published several case reports following a patient’s progress. with Alzheimer’s who received radiation.
“Most doctors don’t believe it,” Cuttler told CTV News. “They think it’s snake oil. It is not accepted, it is not traditional medicine.
The controversy stems from the fact that radiation is “generally accepted” as a cause of DNA mutations and something that increases cancer risk, according to the study itself.
The radiation dose in CT scans is low – it’s not a risk to patients – but researchers believe it prompts the body to somehow repair damage to the brain.
The mechanisms that may be involved are not fully understood, which is why more studies are needed, scientists say.
“Radiation is the kind of thing that at low doses can have a very different effect than at high doses,” Freedman said. “At a low dose, it could actually stimulate the protective mechanisms of the brain – at a high dose, it could cause damage.”
Cuttler has long advocated for further investigation into the use of radiation in patients with Alzheimer’s disease, and now medical professionals such as Freedman see enough potential to merit further study.
“If you had asked me five years ago, if I thought it would help Alzheimer’s disease, I probably would have said, I don’t think so,” Freedman said.
“And here I’m talking about the results of our pilot study, where it looks like this could be a potential treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.”
In Cuttler’s previous case study, a woman in her 80s experienced such improvement after receiving CT scans that she was able to switch from hospice to long-term care for about a year after her treatment starting in 2015.
The aim of this new pilot study was to see if these results could be replicated.
“Many neurological disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease, are thought to be caused in part by oxidative stress which damages all cells, including those in the brain,” Cuttler explained in a press release. “We have natural protective systems to fight damage, but they become less effective as we age. Each dose of radiation stimulates our natural protective systems to work harder – to produce more antioxidants that prevent oxidative damage, repair more DNA damage, and destroy more mutated cells. “
Because this study was so limited in scope and size, the researchers believe there is still work to be done before they can be sure whether this strategy works.
“I think we should do this study again with more people,” Freedman said. “We should have a [control] group, where there’s the real radiotherapy group, where there isn’t, and really see how effective this treatment is. It would require funding. But that would be the next thing to do.
“The good thing about it is that the treatment works quickly, it sees results later in the day or the next day,” Cuttler said. “And so, if we can organize ourselves and plan the treatments properly, we should be able to achieve meaningful scientific results.”
If funding and support can be found, this could be the start of a new method for treating dementia and patients with Alzheimer’s disease.