Nathan Torbick of Applied GeoSolutions is working with Dr. Elijah Stommel at Dartmouth

Nathan Torbick of Applied GeoSolutions is working with Dr. Elijah Stommel at Dartmouth to study the link between Lou Gehrig’s disease and toxins produced by cyanobacteria. Photo: David Lane/Union Leader

Mike Cote writes in the New Hampshire Union Leader that the link between ALS and cyanobacteria present in algae blooms was first traced to Guam in the 1950s, according to Dr. Elijah Stommel, a professor of neurology at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine.

  • Stommel is working with Applied GeoSolutions of Newmarket, NH, to study possible environmental links to the disease, also called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s disease, by using satellite technology and onsite water testing.
  • “Those microorganisms that form these blue-green algae blooms in the water in the warmer months of the year can be tracked with remote sensing satellite imagery,” said Dr. Stommel, who also works at the ALS clinic at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.
  • The clinic started mapping ALS patients several years ago, finding some clustering around bodies of water, including Lake Mascoma, in Lebanon, NH.
  • “We didn’t know why there would be a cluster of ALS there,” said Dr. Stommel, who specializes in neuromuscular disease. “We were asking lake biologists and people who knew more about the body of water in particular. It turned out that it had had frequent algae blooms and the same cyanobacteria that were found in Guam.”
  • They also found the cyanobacteria in carp that had been introduced to the lake and in aerosol, the air around the lake.
  • “We’ve given questionnaires to 700 ALS patients now in northern New England and some other parts of the country,” Dr. Stommel said. “It appears not everybody lives on a water body like Lake Mascoma or is eating fish out of the lake or is swimming in the lake or recreating in the lake. But they are living in close proximity. We think aerosol might be an exposure route. People are breathing it into their sinus and into their lungs.”
  • Stommel cited the work of ethnobotanist Paul Cox, who published a medical article in January in the Proceedings of the Royal Society that made a case for linking exposure to blue-green algae toxin with ALS and other neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s. While scientists debate the research, the link could lead the way to new treatment options.