University of Saskatchewan researcher investigates link between copper and Alzheimer's

Using the Canadian Light Source, Kelly Summers is peering into the brain to find out if there is a way to manipulate the balance of copper, and possibly ease the symptoms and progression of Alzheimer's.

Canadian Light Source tools help map out metal content in the brain

Kelly Summers, a PhD candidate in chemistry, is using the Canadian Light Source to investigate the link between copper in the brain and Alzheimer's disease. (CBC)

A researcher at the University of Saskatchewan thinks there may be a link between copper and Alzheimer's, and is using the Canadian Light Source to search for metal in the brain.

They build up in the brain and they can cause a lot of negative chemistry.- Kelly Summers

Kelly Summers is a PhD candidate in chemistry.

"Everyone has metals like copper in the brain," Summers said in an interview with CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning.

Alzheimer's Disease is the most common cause of dementia. There's currently no cure but researchers around the world are looking for answers - including here in Saskatoon at the Canadian Light Source. U of S researcher Kelly Summers is trying to find out if metals are the culprit - specifically, copper. 5:46

Out of balance

When metals like copper are out of balance there can be problems, and Summers theorizes that copper imbalance may be linked to Alzheimer's.

"It kind of builds up along with these proteins that are also not doing their normal job and so they build up in the brain and they can cause a lot of negative chemistry or chemistry that we don't want to be happening in the brain."

Using tools at the Canadian Light Source, Summers is peering into the brain to find out if there is a way to manipulate the balance of copper, and possibly ease the symptoms and progression of Alzheimer's.

"So we can actually map out where something like copper is within the brain. And by figuring out its exact location, we can maybe figure out what it's doing there, why it's there, or how to bring it back to where it's supposed to be."

Promising results 

The work Summers is doing at the U of S is being supported by other researchers around the world who are developing drugs to regulate metals in the brain, and while it is in its infancy, it is showing some promise and may someday lead to new drugs that could help ease the symptoms and slow the progression of Alzheimer's.

"Some of the drugs that we're looking at have undergone clinical trials," Summers said.

"It's shown some significant promise in mice and then sort of early stages of clinical trials. So we're hopeful that maybe we can figure out how these drugs are working and work our way towards something that will be really beneficial."

With files from Saskatoon Morning