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Study investigates the effects of red tide on the brain, volunteers needed

Posted at 12:15 AM, Dec 29, 2020
and last updated 2021-01-05 19:02:42-05

SANIBEL, Fla. — Researchers are in need of volunteers, as a mobile lab will soon be making its way to Sanibel.

It's part of the Roskcamp Institute's red-tide clinical study investigating how red tide can impact the human brain.

"It's a known neurotoxin, it caused the nerves to fire incorrectly, and it paralyzes muscles," said Dr. Michael Mullan, Executive Director of the Roskamp Institute.

"You see birds that look as if they're drunk, and that's for the same reason, they're getting this interference with their normal neurological function."

The Roskamp Institute is a non-profit organization focused on understanding and treating diseases of the mind.

Through their red-tide study, researchers look at the amount of neurotoxins that people have been exposed to and whether that correlates with neurological symptoms, contributing to dementia and Alzheimer's.

"We, for instance, have a memory disorder clinic, and some people were attributing exasperation of memory problems to the red tide," said Dr. Mullan.

Dr. Mullan says during the red tide outbreak in 2018, they got many referrals to their neurology clinic with people complaining of neurological symptoms.

"So, we got very interested in the question of is there a link between being exposed to red tide and the exasperation of neurological symptoms," Dr. Mullan.

The clinical study kicked off in May, thanks to a 400,000 dollar grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

"What we really want to uncover is that there is no link between red tide and exasperation of neurological symptoms or the emergence of new neurological symptoms; we hope that's the outcome," said Dr. Mullan.

Dr. Mullan says about 200 people are already part of the study in Sarasota and Manatee Counties, but now they are looking for 100 volunteers in Southwest Florida.

The study requires blood and urine samples to measure brevetoxin and antibody levels.

"We correlate the levels of exposure which we can see in their blood with neurological signs and symptoms," said Dr. Mullan.

Volunteers will be seen during periods when no red tide blooms are detected and periods when blooms are present.

"One of the really interesting things that has come out of it already is that there is a big difference in the immune response to prior exposures to red-tide," said Dr. Mullan.

He says they see people with very high antibody levels against the toxin and people with very low levels.

"One of the questions is, is it a good thing to have those high levels of antibodies or is a bad thing, we just don’t know at this stage," said Dr. Mullan.

Dr. Mullan says they chose Sanibel to send their mobile lab for two reasons.

"One is because they are currently experiencing red-tide, but unfortunately, folks in that area can be exposed to another toxin as well from the blue-green algae," said Dr. Mullan.

Researchers will be looking for prior exposure to blue-green algae as well.

The institute's mobile lab will be parked in the main parking lot of the Sanibel Post Office from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 16.

To sign up for the study, you can call David Patterson at (941) 256-8018, ext. 3008.

To learn more about the Roskcamp Institute, click here.