While high doses of radiation are known to be harmful, low doses may be able to help the body protect and repair. And now, scientists from the Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute in Toronto have found that low doses of radiation may be able to improve behaviour and cognition in patients with severe Alzheimer’s.
For the pilot study, four people with severe Alzheimer’s disease were given three treatments of low-dose radiation two weeks apart with a CT scanner. Throughout the treatment period, the patients underwent standardized tests and were observed for changes in their communication and behavior. Information such as descriptions, photos and videos were also collected from the patients' family and caregivers.
After just one day of the first treatment, the researchers found that three of the four individuals showed improvements including increased alertness and responsiveness, recognition of loved ones, mobility, social engagement and mood.
The daughter of one patient said, "I had an amazing visit with my dad this evening. I'm speechless from last night. He was excited to see me - he spoke to me right away and gave me multiple kisses - real kisses like years ago. He was clapping his hands to the music. My mom agreed it's been years since he has done this. Everyone is amazed."
The researchers say that multiple neurological disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease, are thought to be at least partially brought on by oxidative stress that damages cells all over the body. While we have in-built systems that naturally protect this damage, as we age, they become less effective.
The radiation treatment may thus work by stimulating these natural protection systems to produce more antioxidants that fend off oxidative damage, repair DNA damage and destroy mutated cells.
While promising results, the researchers caution that this was a small study and thus has some limitations. They did not use a control group for example and had a small sample size. As such, t confirm their findings and understand more how this treatment works, larger clinical trials are needed.