Florida red tide is caused by an algae which blooms in the Gulf of Mexico, under certain environmental conditions and releases a neurotoxin called brevetoxin. When people eat shellfish that have been exposed to Florida Red Tide, they can contract a very serious and potentially deadly illness called Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning, or PSP. Another form of this ailment is Neurolytic Shellfish Poisoning, which can cause extreme neurological disorders and may lead to death.
For over two decades the scientists of the Roskamp Institute in Sarasota have been researching the causes and potential cures for neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s Disease. They have now turned their attention to Brevotoxin, released from the red tide algae.
In 2019, Congressman Vern Buchanan’s measure to study the impact of red tide on human health was approved. The amendment instructed the National Institutes of Health to designate $6.25 million to research the long term health effects of red tide and other Harmful Algal Blooms.
Recently, the Roskamp Institute learned that they had successfully competed for a peer reviewed federal grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences of over $400,000 to advance their work to study the potential effects of the Florida red tide neurotoxin, brevetoxin, on brain health.
In a press release from Roskamp Dr. Mike Mullan, one of the team leaders in the Florida red tide project and the Executive Director of the Roskamp Institute said: “Hopefully, our research will show that there is no link between the Florida red tide brevetoxin exposure and an increase of neurological disorders. However, when you see metric tons of marine life being killed in a few weeks you realize how powerful the toxin is, and knowing that some of the effects of exposure can be long-lasting in other species, it makes sense to make sure that something similar is not happening in the human population – particularly in vulnerable populations.”
Project team leader Dr Laila Abdullah added that, “One critical observation is that brevetoxin does not affect everyone equally – some people are relatively unaffected by it, whereas others get severe symptoms very easily. We are very interested to know the reason for this and so we are examining the role of the immune system and looking at differences in neurological effects between those that have severe symptoms versus those that do not”.
The new funding will allow the Florida red tide team at Roskamp to continue the work already underway, examining the neurological effects of Florida red tide in a clinical study designed to determine whether exposure to brevetoxin can increase the incidence of neurological symptoms in susceptible individuals from the Sarasota area. Previous work, including by Dr. Barbara Kirkpatrick, a long time Board Member of START’s, who is a key team member in the present study, has suggested that this might be the case, as she and her colleagues recorded an excess of Emergency Room admissions for neurological complaints during the Florida red tide blooms occurring between the years 2005-2009