Full Show Transcript
John Rush (00:00):
And this is the Health and Wellness Wednesday edition of Rush to Reason. Thank you all for listening, I appreciate it very much. Our next guest is Dr. Russell Lebovitz. Make sure I say that correctly, Dr. Russell, and I should say Dr. Russ, I appreciate you joining us. Let’s talk about Lewy body Dementia, which by the way, until I saw this sort of press release on you and you coming on air with me I knew nothing about this, and I guarantee you our listeners don’t either.
Dr. Russell Lebovitz (00:24):
Well, first of all, thank you for having me today. And yes, Lewy Body dementia is the second most prevalent cause of dementia after Alzheimer’s. And it’s starting to receive a lot more publicity basically, because there’s a new documentary about Robin Williams from his family, and it turns out that he suffered from advanced Lewy Body Dementia.
John Rush (00:50):
And again, I remember when he passed away and all the news that was surrounding that and just the conversation around depression and all those different things, but nobody knew this was going on, did they?
Dr. Russell Lebovitz (01:00):
No. This is not a disease that we can recognize particularly well. It’s been quite a struggle to be able to have a diagnosis at any stage other than after death, and that’s really how it was discovered in Robin Williams. When you examine the brain, his brain was full of what we call Lewy bodies. And that was really the first sign that that was what was going on.
John Rush (01:26):
How long has this been discovered, Dr. Russ? In other words, what year did somebody make the find, I guess you could say, that this was even a problem in the first place?
Dr. Russell Lebovitz (01:38):
Yeah, I think it was given a name as a type of dementia and begun to be recognized really in the 1970s. While that’s 40 some years ago, that’s a short period of time for a new disease, but we have known about Lewy bodies for a while. And it turns out that Lewy bodies are the main pathological sign for Parkinson’s disease.
John Rush (02:04):
I didn’t know that. So in other words, the symptoms can even I’m assuming mimic each other?
Dr. Russell Lebovitz (02:10):
Well, it’s a great question. What’s really treacherous about Lewy body disease or Lewy body dementia is that the symptoms… There’s three different types of symptoms all of which can appear, or they can appear one at a time. And this is what’s so confusing. About a third of people present with symptoms just like Parkinson’s, as you’ve suggested, and those are mainly problems with normal movement. About a third present initially with symptoms that look like Alzheimer’s.
They’re dementia symptoms, people who start to lose their memory or no longer have executive and planning function. And about a third present with what otherwise would be described as psychiatric symptoms. They may be hearing voices, having visual hallucinations, being afraid to go outside, having obsessive-compulsive behaviors. A third could end up seeing a psychiatrist, a third a Parkinson’s movement specialist, and a third might see a doctor who focuses on memory.
John Rush (03:20):
So if this has been actually diagnosed, is there any treatments or cures for it, Dr. Russ?
Dr. Russell Lebovitz (03:28):
Well, there’s two things, one that until recently it actually has been very difficult to diagnose. There are a number of people who’ve been working on this, and I’m proud to say that I’m the CEO and co-founder of a company called Amprion that has developed a pretty definitive test for Lewy bodies that can be done while someone is still alive and actually at very early stages of the disease. We can finally diagnose it at a molecular level. Treatments, there are a number of treatments. There are no cures yet.
Dr. Russell Lebovitz (04:05):
But by being able to recognize it early, we help people to take charge of their health and to at least slow down the symptoms, and we can also encourage people who might want to enter a clinical trial. This is how we’re going to find a cure.
John Rush (04:21):
Okay, makes total sense. Now, I guess another dumb question again, I’m a novice – I’m a car guy, Dr. Russ, I’m not a medical professional. I do Health and Wellness Wednesdays, just because I believe that a lot of us need to live healthier lives than we currently are. I believe there’s things we can be doing to make ourselves more healthy. It’s our choice. It’s what we decide to do daily.
John Rush (04:40):
When it comes to these things and when it comes to what you’re talking about, I mean, I have no idea personally speaking whether there’s things we can do earlier in our life to avoid these sorts of things, whether it be this or Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. And I think really the verdict is out on a lot of those things, but I do know this, Dr. Russ, the healthier of a lifestyle we lead, the better off we are when we get down the road in our later years and so on. Question for you, is this easily diagnosed?
John Rush (05:06):
In other words, if you go to a doctor and you’ve got some of these other symptoms, are they going to pick up on this and find Lewy body, or are they going to look at other things instead?
Dr. Russell Lebovitz (05:14):
They’re almost always going to look at other things instead. That’s the biggest problem. So until this recent test that allows you to focus on Lewy bodies, it might not even have come up as a suspicion for several years. It often takes many years to come to a conclusion that a patient has Lewy body dementia. And I’d say that probably 50% or more are misdiagnosed during the first few years.
John Rush (05:41):
What is the test that somebody can perform to determine this?
Dr. Russell Lebovitz (05:45):
Amprion, the company that I work with and helped found, has developed the test for what’s the ultimate cause of Lewy bodies and Lewy Body Dementia. It’s a protein gone rogue called alpha-synuclein. A normal protein in the brain helps our brains function normally, it has a unique property that on very rare occasions it goes rogue. It flips into a different shape, even though it’s the same protein. The new shape is called a prion, and that prion does two things that are disastrous. One, kills brain cells, but two, it is able to replicate itself.
Dr. Russell Lebovitz (06:29):
So that over decades you could start with one copy in one cell in the brain, and over decades, you get billions of copies and many, many cells affected. And that’s really the basis of these diseases. The cells carrying the prion form of synuclein die over decades.
John Rush (06:49):
Those are the ones that take over.
Dr. Russell Lebovitz (06:50):
John Rush (06:50):
Am I hearing that correctly?
Dr. Russell Lebovitz (06:52):
Well, yes, the prion form, it’s like a Transformer in the movie or in the television show. It turns from a Luke Skywalker into Darth Vader, and Darth Vader can create a whole army that looks like Darth Vader. And once you have that, it’s a matter of time, but it’s decades. And then the question becomes, as you have said earlier, what can someone do the earlier you know that you have this.
John Rush (07:20):
Right, yeah. I would assume this is like any form of cancer, for example. The earlier we find it, the earlier we can either change lifestyle, what we eat, treatments, and so on, then, of course, the better chance those patients have of surviving it if they can at all. In some cases, Dr. Russ, it’s gone so long, there’s no survival for those individuals.
Dr. Russell Lebovitz (07:42):
And the problem is you’ve nailed it here. Once you have symptoms, it’s because things have been destroyed. And unlike almost every other organ in the body, the brain doesn’t regenerate. When a cell dies in the brain, it’s gone. Almost every other organ we can regenerate and repair. So in the brain, it’s really critical to minimize the loss. Early detection becomes even more important, although it’s critically important in cancer as well.
John Rush (08:11):
Yeah, no, the similarities… I just lost my brother to brain cancer, so there’s a lot of this where when you started talking, there’s a lot of similarities, including in his case literally, and it’s not any fault of anybody, but a misdiagnosis. In fact, this is really interesting that we’re talking with you today because he was diagnosed early on and they thought he had a form of Parkinson’s as well, Dr. Russ, and yet it turned out to be a brain tumor.
Dr. Russell Lebovitz (08:37):
Yeah, this is the challenge, and this is really the tragedy of not having clear molecular diagnoses early on. We’re much better now with cancer than we were. We have a long way to go for people like your brother. But Parkinson’s, these brain diseases can resemble many different diseases. It can be cancers affecting the brain, people who take certain drugs can have changes that look like Parkinson’s, or like some signs of Lewy body dementia.
Dr. Russell Lebovitz (09:10):
This is really a challenge. And what we’re trying to do is to turn brain diseases into a form of… to develop diagnostic tools that give you a really clear answer with a test that you can have in a laboratory.
John Rush (09:28):
By the way, folks, again, we’re talking to Dr. Russ Lebovitz. It’s L-E-B-O-V-I-T-Z. Just look him up in the company… His company is Amprion, A-M-P-R-I-O-N. And Dr. Russ, I mean, I guess maybe… Tell me if I’m wrong, but I would guess the ultimate goal here would be just like we now pre-scan for colon cancer. We know that at age… No, I think they’re now seeing 45 I think is the age where you want to get in, get your colonoscopy, find out what’s going on. If there’s any polyps, they deal with that at that time.
And of course, it’s that early detection once again that we’re talking about. Is this the path that you guys are trying to take to where when folks start reaching maybe their early forties, there’s maybe a test you would do every fifth or 10th year, whatever it happens to be, to look for these sorts of things?
Dr. Russell Lebovitz (10:16):
I think that’s a very reasonable place for this to end up. Our first goal is for people who are even more likely to have it, who may have several family members, so we start there. People who have very, very early signs, but ultimately the people who benefit the most are those who have this detected before they even suspect it.
John Rush (10:41):
A dumb question again, not in your world, to me knowing where we are technologically speaking, it’s the year 2021, a novice like me would think, “Don’t we already have this technology and can’t we already just put somebody’s blood or whatever type of cells that we’re going to look at, can we not just pop those under a microscope and have some sort of a lab result that pops back out minutes later?” Are we just not there yet?
Dr. Russell Lebovitz (11:04):
Well, we have tools, but those tools have to be applied to real people and real diseases. Everything we know we’ve made such giant advances in cancer, but that’s because in the mid 1970s, we devoted a very significant budget for all healthcare research to cancer. It’s led to amazing findings and tools that might be able to be applied for brain diseases.
Dr. Russell Lebovitz (11:31):
But now we’re just beginning to recognize that Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and Lewy Body Dementia are now becoming so prevalent as we live longer, so we just need to do the same thing. We need to say as we’re curing heart disease, as we’re making progress with cancer, we now need to put that same sort of focus and resources on these degenerative brain diseases.
John Rush (11:56):
It makes total sense to me. I realized, and I’m not trying to get off on a rabbit trail or go in a direction that we shouldn’t, but we’ve spent… And I realized the reason for that, but we’ve spent a ton of money, billions and billions of dollars, developing a vaccine for COVID. Unless I’m wrong here, they’re working on the same protein, that level of technology, I guess you could say, Dr. Russ. We did all of that in a very, very fast track. I’m wondering if we do the same thing here, would we be that much farther ahead? And I’m not complaining. I’m just saying it is what it is.
No, no, it’s a great question, and I think you know the answer as well as I do that we can make progress when we focus. We have amazing people and amazing capabilities, but we have different constituencies saying, “We need to focus on this or that.” And I guess today I’m making the case that dementia, movement disorders, that these diseases that start in our sixties and are now such a threat to us, we need to move them up the priority list.
John Rush (12:59):
Okay. And maybe you have this number and you know it, how many people annually in the United States die from dementia?
Dr. Russell Lebovitz (13:05):
Oh, from dementia totally?
John Rush (13:07):
Dr. Russell Lebovitz (13:09):
Yes. It’s over a million.
John Rush (13:11):
Wow. That’s a lot.
Dr. Russell Lebovitz (13:14):
John Rush (13:14):
I’m going with this. Again, I’m not trying to make a political statement or anything along those lines, Dr. Russ, but we just spent all the money that we spent developing a vaccine for COVID that non-morbidity rates are, by the way, as a percentage, extremely, extremely low. Yet here is a situation where we know there’s a million people dying of this. I just wish we were spending the same money in these areas as we did this other. That’s all I’m saying.
Dr. Russell Lebovitz (13:35):
Well, the hope today is from our conversations and others like it will start to make people aware. Maybe they should have thought of it before. Maybe we all should have thought of this earlier. But now the numbers are clear, and with your help and people and your listeners, we start to get people to recognize what a giant problem this is. This is my fate. This is unfortunately your fate and everyone listening here if we don’t make progress.
John Rush (14:03):
I’ve had family members that have experienced… And again, Dr. Russell, because of when they passed, we don’t know today. It could have been Lewy body. I had a grandmother that passed away from dementia. Again, to this day, we don’t know exactly what even happened because of the timeframe that that was back then. We just didn’t have the technology we have today.
John Rush (14:23):
I guarantee you, Dr. Russ, that maybe I’m making a bold statement here, but I would venture to guess that every single family out there, one way form or another, has been affected by this, and they may not even have known it.
Dr. Russell Lebovitz (14:35):
That certainly is true. It’s true for me. And I believe exactly what you said, that many, many people, probably everyone out there has at least one family member that has succumbed to dementia and these progressive brain diseases. You’re right, that they might not even have been recognized. We used to maybe call it old age.
Dr. Russell Lebovitz (14:56):
But now we know that this isn’t a fate. You don’t have to lose your memory. You don’t have to lose your higher brain function.
John Rush (15:02):
This is awesome. Dr. Russ, for folks that are listening that want to learn more about this or even become more involved and bring awareness up and so on, what’s the best way for them to do that? Where do they go to find out more information?
Dr. Russell Lebovitz (15:14):
Thanks so much for asking. Yes, at Amprion, we’re developing tools, but we’re also spending a lot of time trying to curate good information to help people. Our website for Amprion, which is www.amprionme.com, and that’s spelled A-M-P-R-I-O-N-M-E.com, is a source that we’re very proud of where we take what we think is the best content and the most validated content, and we try to take that information and to package it in a way that people, that patients, families, people concerned about this can benefit from.
Amprionme.com. There are other places. There’s the Lewy Body Dementia Association, LBDA. The Michael J. Fox Foundation also has information. There are a number of sources out there and Amprion certainly is one of those. And again, what we have done that’s unique is to develop a laboratory-based tool to actually get a clear answer, yes or no.
John Rush (16:19):
This is awesome. Dr. Russ, you are welcome anytime. I’ve enjoyed the conversation. As you can tell, I’m in on this, trying to bring whatever awareness we can. I appreciate your time. As I said a moment ago, anytime you want to come back on air, you are welcome, sir.
Dr. Russell Lebovitz (16:33):
Well, I’d love to be invited back. I really appreciate your perspective. And I just want to reiterate how important it is what you do for this effort as well.
John Rush (16:42):
Dr. Russell Lebovitz (16:43):
People need to get information, and there’s no way to do it without someone like you who’s a host. You may have a car preference, but the fact that you’re willing to use your platform to help people understand information about their own health is just very laudatory. I really thank you.
John Rush (17:02):
Thank You. Dr. Russ, I appreciate it very much. And again, I mean it. We’ll have you back in the future. We do this every Wednesday for an hour, and I will bring awareness to this and I appreciate your time, sir.
Dr. Russell Lebovitz (17:10):
And I appreciate you as well. Thank you.
You’re very welcome. Again, Dr. Russ Lebovitz. It’s L-E-B-O-V-I-T-Z. And again, his company, A-M-P-R-I-O-N. And folks, as you can tell, this is very near and dear to me because I know there’s a lot of you listening where this will affect either you individually or a family member that you know.
John Rush (17:30):
Again, not to get off on a tangent when we start talking about all the things we’ve done COVID wise, but I was just looking at his website and here’s a really quick statistic, five million people in the US right now are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and one million with Parkinson’s, and these numbers are expected to triple by 2050…