As part of the Cultural Enhancement Series, ethnobotanist Paul Alan Cox spoke at Van Meter Hall about his research on neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and ALS, otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. 

Cox is a leading scientist and researcher in ethnobotany, which is the scientific study of an area’s plants and their uses through a culture’s traditional knowledge, and is best-known for founding Seacology, a non-profit organization focused on island conservation.

Cox also serves as executive director of Brain Chemistry Labs, a non-profit organization located in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, specializing in research for a cure to Alzheimer’s. Though over 400 trials aimed at curing Alzheimer’s failed between 2002 and 2012 in similar labs, Cox said he and his team welcome failure.

“Because we can move faster in a not-for-profit setting, we champion failure,” Cox said. “Our determination is to make a difference for people.”

Through conducting research on cyanobacterial toxins found in cycad plants located near Guam, whose population is uncharacteristically affected by Alzheimer’s, Cox showed that cyanobacterial toxins cause protein misfolding, an indicator of tangle diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Cox’s research on the Ogimi people of rural Japan, the longest-living population in the world, without a single documented case of Alzheimer’s, revealed the Ogimi maintain a diet 10 times higher in the amino acid L-serine than the diet of a typical American. L-serine is now believed to be possess properties that partially prevent and cure Alzheimer’s.

A standard Ogimi diet consists of various types of seaweed, tofu and pork, and is the highest diet ever measured in L-serine.

“L-serine is potentially neurodegenerative-protective,” Cox said. “We can’t erase Alzheimer’s, but we can slow it.”

Cox’s research on L-serine and its effect on Alzheimer’s has been approved by the FDA  and could slow symptoms of Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases by 85 percent.

“If we dose early, we can push off Alzheimer’s until you’re 115 to 120 years old,” Cox said. “We can start treating you before you even have symptoms.”

At this time, Cox said a 30 milliliter dose of L-serine is considered safe. However, an official L-serine dose recommendation is still awaiting approval by the FDA.

Cox’s research on cyanobacterial toxins and their relationship to neurodegenerative diseases is thoroughly documented in the film “Toxic Puzzle,” released this past year. Aside from his work with Alzheimer’s and ALS, Cox said he would like to eventually research schizophrenia and addiction.

Bowling Green resident Polly Moore, 57, whose husband lives with Alzheimer’s, was first introduced to Cox’s work after reading about him in a “Southwest: The Magazine” article. Moore said she was fascinated by Cox’s research on L-serine, which has motivated her to order L-serine for her husband on a regular basis.

“It was mind-blowing for me,” Moore said. “It’s a rare opportunity when someone can cure a disease.”

Moore said her husband has been in stable condition and has not experienced a stroke since incorporating L-serine into his diet.

WKU electrical engineering professor Julie Ellis, who serves on the Cultural Enhancement Series committee, said Cox’s research on the Ogimi people particularly interested her.

“It was neat to see the careful process that applied both lab science and anthropology,” Ellis said while discussing Cox’s methods in uncovering the truth about L-serine.

WKU pre-med major Shino Sleeper, 28, said she hopes researchers are soon approved to promote an L-serine-rich diet, and that she believes Cultural Enhancement Series events are important and worth attending. Sleeper said she plans to go to other future events.

“They [Series events] actually are inspiring. And they’re real-world,” Sleeper said. “Hearing these is motivating.”

Reporter Griffin Fletcher can be reached at 270-745-2655 and griffin.fletcher398@topper.wku.edu.