REPORT LINKS GUAM BRAIN DISEASES TO TOXIC METALS

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By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Dec. 5) – The University of Guam denied yesterday that it was trying to stop the publication of a report linking Guam’s deadly brain diseases to toxic metals.

Cathleen Moore-Lin, University of Guam’s marketing and communications director, said, "there is no conspiracy" to censor any report on studies related to brain diseases such as Lytigo-Bodig.

"The Micronesian Health and Aging Studies Institute at University of Guam holds annual information meetings for families participating in Lytigo-Bodig studies," Moore-Lin said, reacting to statements made by University of Guam researcher Dr. Luis Szyfres that University of Guam president Harold Allen asked him to stop his research and its publication in a national scientific journal.

"Dr. Allen has not seen the report. It would not be possible for Dr. Allen to block publication of such a report in a national scientific journal," Moore-Lin said. "Clearly, no one has censored the report. The media have copies of the report. The University of Guam administration has not seen the report."

Moore-Lin said the University of Guam administration does not know if the paper has been submitted to a journal.

"However," she added, "if the paper has not been published in a scientific journal, then the information contained in the paper clearly does not meet the standards of that journal."

Szyfres confirmed that no one at University of Guam has seen his report, which he said he has yet to finalize. "They cannot make a technical evaluation of a report that they have not seen. If they want to see it, I can provide them a copy of the draft report," Szyfres told Variety.

According to Szyfres’ report, the environment of Guam has high concentrations of toxic metals that cause the high prevalence of neurodegenerative disorders, known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS and Parkinsonism-dementia complex or PDC, on Guam.

He said the types of brain diseases found on Guam were clinically distinct and "not found anywhere else on the planet."

Szyfres cited studies, which have found the concentrations of cadmium, cobalt, copper, iron, manganese, rubidium, vanadium, and zinc in formalin-fixed brain tissue collected during the period 1979-1983 from eight Guamanian patients with ALS, four with PDC, and five control subjects.

But Moore-Lin said Szyfres’s statement "is not based on fact."

"There is no single factor that has been identified as the cause of Lytico-Bodig. There have been many theories, and some of these theories have been fueled by emotion," Moore-Lin said.

"Dr. Syzfres is harming those individuals suffering from this disease and their families by making a statement that is not based on research or on facts," she added.

Szyfres said Guam residents were not informed of the results of studies and tests conducted on blood samples and brains "harvested" from Chamorro patients. "By standards of law and morality, people must be informed of the results of the tests on blood samples or tissues taken from them," he said.

The Variety inadvertently identified Szyfres as a member of the Cancer Research Center. He is a faculty member in the College of Natural and Applied Sciences.

Moore-Lin said the Micronesian Health and Aging Studies Institute at University of Guam is connected and communicates with families of those individuals suffering from Lytico-Bodig who are involved in the research project.

She said University of Guam has linked up with the University of California in San Diego to study neurodegenerative diseases in Micronesia. The project is funded by a five-year US$10.6 million grant.

"University of Guam and UC, San Diego diligently adhere to strict federal guidelines in working with human subjects. Researchers and staff members respect the privacy of the patients and families involved in the research project," Moore-Lin said.

Moore-Lin said a search for the cause and cure for the brain diseases has received much attention from Guam’s community, as well as from the scientific community.

"It is of great concern to all who call Guam home. The University of Guam and the University of California-San Diego will continue their research to find the cause of this devastating illness and to assist in alleviating the pain it causes families," she added.

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