Computed tomography (CT) scans may be able do more than just take high resolution pictures inside human bodies. They might provide a useful treatment modality for certain neurodegenerative diseases.
A recently published case report suggests that the adaptive response of a human immune system stimulated by a short series of standard, painless, simple to administer CT scans provided a measurably positive effect for a single patient. The report documents an accidental, observational experience that points to the need for a larger study with substantially more patients. The larger, more carefully designed study may be able to confirm or deny the indications and provide more details on the mechanisms involved.
Jerry M. Cuttler, Eugene R. Moore [corresponding author], Victor D. Hosfeld, and David L. Nadolski published a noteworthy, peer-reviewed case report titled Treatment of Alzheimer Disease With CT Scans. The paper documents an impressive recovery from the advanced, near catatonic stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
The patient was admitted to hospice care in April 2015 because her 10-year old case of Alzheimer’s had progressed to the point where she was unable to leave her wheel chair and had become almost as unresponsive as a vegetable. Hospice care is reserved for patients in their final six months of living and is aimed at minimizing pain and suffering. At the time she entered hospice, she was expected to die by September.
At the end of June 2016 the 81-year old patient was reported to be alert, happy, eating, reasonably mobile and responding to conversation. Her husband provided a status report; I have anonymized it to protect privacy.
She continues to give the appearance of progress but may be approaching a plateau. We will likely give her another scan in the next two weeks. The last one was on 2/24/16.
In the meanwhile, we have a physical therapist who is working on building strength and is getting her to stand and take several steps (with encouragement and back-up personnel). She is also now able to propel her wheelchair, almost always with encouragement and sometimes completely by herself. Both are significant improvements.
A caretaker noted that she often seems know what she wants to say but cannot get the words out. Speech therapy, as developed for stroke victims, may be helpful and her physician has given an order. We are now searching for an appropriate therapist.
We have also enrolled her in the “Speech Language Pathology” clinic at a nearby university. We met with a professor and assistant professor who both seemed to be very interested in studying the benefits of speech therapy on my wife.
We are waiting for them to find a date to visit the clinic as their school year draws to a close, and they switch to the summer schedule.
This remarkable recovery happened after the patient was given two Computed Tomography (CT) scans on July 23, 2015, a third CT scan on August 6, fourth CT scan on August 20, and a fifth CT scan on October 1. Each of the CT scans gives accurately computed dose to the brain of 40 mGy, which is roughly equivalent to 4 Rad.
On November 20, 2015, the patient was discharged from hospice care and returned to the stimulating dementia day care service that she had left when her disease had progressed to the late stages and she needed 24-hour care.
Dr. Cuttler, the lead author of the paper, presented this incredibly encouraging case report at the 2016 Dose Response Society Annual Conference at UMASS Amherst held in April 2016. The title of this year’s conference was Preconditioning in Biology and Medicine: Mechanisms and Translational Research.
Dr. Cuttler and the Dose-Response Society believe that this is an important case report that deserves follow-up and intensive research efforts. There are approximately 1.5 million people in the United States that are currently in treatment for Alzheimer’s Disease. There are tens of millions of people who love and care for those patients and whose lives have been altered in various ways.
It is a devastating, far too common disease. For me, it is a far scarier prospect than cancer. My mind and my memories are who I am; losing them while becoming an increasingly heavy burden on numerous loved ones is a fate I have no desire to endure.
Any chemical that offers hope of mitigating Alzheimer’s is the subject of intensive research, clinical trials and is considered for commercialization as a profitable pharmaceutical product. I’ve had personal experience with the challenges associated with successful use of a routine medication for a patient that is declining into advanced stages of the disease.
I’d be surprised if the clinical trials associated with getting approval to use chemicals includes any extended observations for long term side effects or long delayed disease manifestation. However, as you will note if you watch the presentation to the end, even the attendees at the Dose-Response Society meeting were somewhat resistant to the idea of using CT scanners as treatment devices.
Even those who immediately accepted the case report as an indication of the potential for an extremely welcome treatment regimen noted the insurance and legal challenges associated with obtaining similar treatment from a machine that has been designated as an imaging or diagnostic tool.
Aside: Insurance company policy wouldn’t play a role if I was in the position of making a decision for a loved one. CT scans aren’t terribly expensive even if charged at the list price of about $1,200 per scan. The marginal cost of each treatment for facilities where the machine already exists is minimal. End Aside.
Why Hasn’t This Been Done Before?
A logical person might wonder why it has taken so long for someone to attempt to use a CT scanner as a way to stimulate a diseased brain to recover some of its functionality. This is one more example of the widespread detrimental effects of assuming that all radiation, down to a single gamma ray, is harmful to human health.
That assumption has discouraged physicians and medical researchers from even considering the notion that there are beneficial applications of radiation for disease treatment. A long standing exception to this general avoidance policy is in the field of oncology — the treatment and curing of cancer.
Most people alive today are unaware of the history of using radiation for its curative properties. From 1900-1960 X-ray machinery served both as a diagnostic imaging tool and as a controlled source of gamma rays for treating a variety of afflictions including — as described during Dr. Cuttler’s presentation:
- Eliminate metastases or slow cancer growth
- Accelerate healing of wounds
- Stop infections: gas gangrene, carbuncles and boils, sinus, inner ear, etc.
- Relieve arthritis and other inflammatory conditions
- Cure swollen lymph glands
- Cure pneumonia
- Cure asthma
Virtually all of the above treatments, despite their documented effectiveness, were gradually abandoned after physicians were thoroughly indoctrinated by the assertion that all doses of radiation, no matter how tiny, carried a risk of eventually causing a genetic mutation. The mutation might be hereditary or it might manifest itself as a diseased cell with unrestrained growth characteristics.
In other words, even the smallest dose of radiation was assumed to be carcinogenic. That is, it could cause a cancer. That status means that every dose of man-made radiation must be justified.
For a reason whose logic eludes me, most physicians and medical researchers operate under the assumption that the process of devising a treatment regime using x-ray machines or radioactive isotopes would be considered to be unethical experimentation on human beings.
Who Created The No Threshold Assertion?
It’s worth knowing that the no threshold assertion wasn’t the unanimous or even the majority position of people who were skilled in the medical applications of radiation.
An important step in the process of eliminating our unhealthy fear of radiation is to learn why we became fearful in the first place. It was not always that way; there was a time when the idea of using radiation was exciting and when creative people devised numerous new ways to apply the relatively recently discovered natural phenomenon.
The beginnings of public fear is traceable to the mid 1950s. After the fear began, it took hold quickly and spread all around the world. A small, identifiable group created intense fear of radiation among much of the world’s population.
In 1954, the Rockefeller Foundation commissioned the National Academy of Sciences to study the biological effects of atomic radiation. It provided the chairman for the Genetics Committee and helped to select a committee of well-known genetics researchers. At least half of the committee had received substantial support from the RF; several of them received especially generous support in the years following their service on the committee. One man, Hermann J. Muller, had been a special project and beneficiary of RF largesse for nearly 30 years by the time that the committee was formed.
He was a stubborn, insistent, Nobel Prize-winning scientist who was able to persuade others to accept his point of view without much discussion.
On June 12, 1956, the NAS BEAR I Genetics Committee issued a report that forcefully told the world that radiation was something dreadful and worthy of intense concern.
That report was the first major public relations release in a long-lasting, effective propaganda campaign that seems to have been specifically designed to scare people about the potential — supposedly incurable — effects of exposure to even low doses. The report wasn’t correct, but it was effective. Part of its effectiveness came from the fact that the radiation damage asserted was something that could not be measured and would not be visible until after the passing of many human generations. That made it difficult to disprove.
The June 13, 1956 issue of the New York Times included a complete reprint of the Genetics Committee report. So did the July issue of Science magazine. On the front page of that edition of the New York Times — whose publisher was on the RF Board of Trustees and part of the decision to request the NAS study — the below headlines were printed in the far right column above the fold on the front page.
RADIATION A PERIL
TO FUTURE OF MAN
Even Small Dose Can Prove Harmful to Descendants
of Victim, Report States
A SAFETY LIMIT IS URGED
Exposure Check of All Asked
–Curb Backed on Dental
and Medical X-Rays
It is any wonder that so many people are so frightened of radiation? Even doctors who want to provide the best possible care for their patients almost unanimously avoid even thinking about using commonly available equipment as a potentially effective, simple to administer treatment with no known side effects other than a low — or nonexistent — probability of a long-delayed initiation of cancer.
Now, more than 60 years after the fear campaign began, researchers have produced a convincing body of evidence indicating that human immune systems have the ability to completely and repeatedly heal cellular damage from low dose radiation given adequate recovery time.
Unfortunately, there are still efforts being made to discredit the research in order to maintain the fear, uncertainty and doubt that continues to further the interests of some people.
It’s past time to stop avoiding potentially healthy doses of radiation.
Why Would The RF Want People To Fear Even Tiny Doses Of Radiation?
It’s difficult to find documented proof of why the Rockefeller Foundation and its board of particularly well-connected trustees wanted people to be afraid of all doses of radiation, even the tiny ones that might result from nuclear energy production. People and organizations rarely reveal or write down why they make the decisions that they do. However, there are at least two — and probably more — reasonably deducible explanations.
One is that the board did not approve of the nuclear weapons arms race with its atmospheric testing program. The population that casually accepted the program because the Atomic Energy Commission told them that the fallout doses were too small to be any danger would only get active if they could be carefully taught that there was a risk and the government was covering it up.
A second is that the Board of Trustees for the Rockefeller Foundation understood the potential impact of unrestrained development of a proven alternative to burning coal, oil and natural gas. Its ability to continue performing its influential work would suffer significant financial contraction. As documented in its annual reports and financial statements, the Rockefeller Foundation endowment included a vast quantity of securities associated with the hydrocarbon industry and the banks that provided its projects with financial support.
Many of the members of the Board of Trustees had similar, but far larger, interests in slowing down the process of moving from the Hydrocarbon Economy to the kind of economy envisioned in Issac Asimov’s Foundation series and hinted at by the successful, highly-publicized operation of the USS Nautilus.
Since the beginning of the Industrial Age, the biggest risk facing hydrocarbon resource developers and investor has been the potential for over supplying the market for heat-producing fuel. Each fuel product has its uses, advantages and disadvantages, but they are all difficult to store safely. There have been dozens of cycles between high and unprofitably low prices in coal, oil and/or gas during the past 150 years. The lows have nearly always been the result of a temporary glut of product.
Nuclear energy offers an almost unlimited source of heat at incredibly low raw fuel costs. The residues remaining after fission are tiny and reusable. As welcome as that prospect is for most of us, it has a huge potential for disrupting the current world order.
What Was Happening In 1954 That Might Have Motivated RF To Decide To Study Biological Effects Of Radiation?
By early 1954, influential scientists and activists were trying to stir up public concerns about the extensive, above ground testing of atomic and hydrogen weapons. Few members of the public were concerned because the Atomic Energy Commission had repeatedly told them they had nothing to worry about. This much is clearly stated in the RF annual report for 1954.
There were other related events that might have influenced the timing of the decision to initiate the NAS review study. The prototype for the USS Nautilus began operating in the summer of 1953. Almost immediately after it began operating, Hyman G. Rickover, who was both an incredibly demanding and successful engineer, ordered the operators to conduct a simulated passage across the Atlantic to prove that his machinery not only worked, but could reliably power a submerged submarine.
It requires larger systems, but any type of power plant that can reliably provide sufficient power for a high speed submarine can also power a ship or produce useful quantities of electricity.
President Eisenhower gave his famous Atoms for Peace speech to the United Nations in December 1953. Congress and the President authorized the construction of the Shippingport nuclear power plant — based on the success of the light water reactor steam plant used in the USS Nautilus — in the early part of 1954.
Congress passed and the President signed the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, which authorized tightly controlled commercial access to atomic information and development of commercial power plants, also under tight control.
Almost immediately after those events made it apparent to everyone in the energy industry that atomic energy was escaping from the bottle into which it had been forced as a result of the Atomic Energy Act of 1946, the RF Board of Trustees asked Detlev Bronk, the President of the NAS and a member of the RF Board, to conduct a wide ranging study on the Biological Effects of Atomic Radiation.
Aside: It’s important to understand a little bit about the effects of the Atomic Energy Act of 1946. With passage of that law, the US government declared that it owned all atomic secrets, owned all nuclear fuel materials and controlled all authorized work on atomic energy. The Atomic Energy Commission and the Joint [Congressional] Committee on Atomic Energy made some minor investments in projects aimed at producing reliable power from the atom, but the vast majority of expenditures and material resources were reserved for the weapons program.
Another big chunk of the budget and scientific attention went to high energy physics research, not power system development. Scientists and engineers — like Farrington Daniels or Alvin Weinberg — who were more interested in power were either pushed out or marginalized during the period before the AEA of 1954 came into effect. End Aside.
Some might believe that it was merely a coincidence that the RF determined that the public could not and should not trust what the Atomic Energy Commission said about the health effects of low level radiation.
I’m too skeptical about actions taken by powerful people who have proven that they are governed by the love of money. (That is a reasonably accurate definition of a certain type of capitalist who thinks that all corporate decisions should be based solely on their ability to generate profits.)
There’s little doubt in my mind that the no threshold assertion for genetic mutation and cancer initiation was at least partly a business-driven decision to create a fear-producing myth out of an assertion by credentialed scientists that was nearly impossible to prove or disprove.
Evidence-seeking scientists have worked diligently to assemble a large body of experimental evidence and statistical analysis (I wrote about one example of that work here) that disproves the myth, but there remain many people in positions of responsibility and regulatory authority who have strong motives for refusing to change their minds. It’s time to take control away; there’s no legitimate reason to allow their “conservative” assumption to continue harming the rest of us.
Note: The above post was updated and clarified on July 11, 2016. A version of the above post was first published on Forbes.com under the headline of Can Radiation From CT Scans Alleviate Symptoms Of Alzheimer’s Disease?. It is reprinted here with permission.