For about as far back as he can remember, Eric Knight has been solving problems with inventions.
As a youth he wanted to be an outfielder on the baseball team but didn’t have enough arm strength to throw balls back to the infield. He built himself a lead baseball that was far heavier than a real baseball and practiced with it.
As an adult he was a marathon runner but couldn’t find time to train, so he developed the Para-Shirt, a training shirt that creates wind resistance as it billows out behind a runner. In the late 1990s that invention landed him a guest spot on the Late Show with David Letterman.
The president and founder of Unionville-based Remarkable Technologies Inc., Knight has also helped send private rockets to space, written about the process in his book The New Race to Space, and developed a communication tool for scuba divers called the Acou-Stik.
In 2010 Knight came across an article about research led by Dr. Gary Arendash, who was then at the University of South Florida. Studying mice that were genetically modified to develop Alzheimer’s disease, Arendash found that high-frequency electromagnetic-field exposure could prevent and reverse their symptoms.
This was observed by mice performing cognitive tasks more effectively, such as finding their way through a maze, and by analysis of biological markers of Alzheimer’s in the mice including decreased buildup of amyloid-beta in their brains.
A Ph.D. and leading authority on Alzheimer’s, Arendash has published more than 100 peer-reviewed articles in major journals including Science, Nature and the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, for which he held the position of senior editor. He started studying the effects of electromagnetic fields on mice with Alzheimer’s around 2008.
“I got interested in the electromagnetic field, actually with the opposite hypothesis that they might be dangerous,” Arendash says. “Because at that time there was some association studies saying that cellphones, which emit electromagnetic waves, could increase your chances of brain tumors. We thought that maybe exposing our transgenic Alzheimer’s mice to electromagnetic fields would actually exacerbate the onset of Alzheimer’s in these mice.”
Instead it helped the mice.
“We saw very nice memory improvement and actually an alleviation of their brain pathology,” Arendash says.
He and his team confirmed these findings through follow-up research. In 2010 he published results from his findings in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. The work received national press and that’s when Knight first became aware of it. In 2013, Arendash formed NeuroEM Therapeutics Inc. to clinically advance electromagnetic technology against Alzheimer’s. Last year the company developed an initial head device (the MemorEM 1000) for use in humans.
The antennas being used to generate the electromagnetic fields on mice in the experiment reminded Knight of work he had done on rockets. Knight was part of the Civilian Space eXploration Team led by Ky Michaelson, which became the first civilian rocket group to have a verified space launch in 2004, when it sent a rocket to an altitude of 72 miles. Knight headed up avionics for the mission and had developed the antennas for this and other rockets the group launched.
The rockets used “these flat antennas that would wrap around the airframe of a rocket,” Knight says. The rocket happened to be about 10 inches in diameter, and as Knight researched Arendash’s work he says a spark went off. He thought, “if we can scale this thing that’s being done with mice up to humans, a human head is about the same in diameter as a rocket. What if I take these antennas and flip them around and use that to broadcast some type of medical therapy.”
Knight designed a helmet-like prototype of the device, applied for a patent and was awarded one in 2015.
Meanwhile, Arendash’s research continued to progress into Transcranial Electromagnetic Treatment (TEMT). Since the initial study, he has done multiple follow-ups building on that work that have had similar results. Arendash says virtually all mice treated show cognitive improvement and, at least in mice, the studies “clearly show this technology can have profound effects on the Alzheimer’s disease process.”
More than 5.4 million people suffer from Alzheimer’s in the U.S., according to estimates. Despite much effort from those in the medical community, no effective drugs have been developed to slow the progression of the disease. “The current drugs that have been available only mask the cognitive decline,” Arendash says.
He believes these drugs are ineffective because they are neither designed nor able to target the root cause of the disease.
“Up to the last few years, most Alzheimer’s researchers believed that the two main causes of Alzheimer’s were the big neuritic plaques that formed outside of brain cells and neurofibrillary tangles that formed inside brain cells,” Arendash says. “Now it appears that that is not the case, but rather it is small aggregates, called ‘oligomers,’ of toxic proteins that form inside brain cells that are responsible for Alzheimer’s pathogenesis.”
One of these proteins is called beta-amyloid, which aggregates inside brain cells. Arendash and others now believe these small aggregates of bad protein are the cause of the disease. If correct, this means to treat the disease you need to get inside the neurons. Arendash and other researchers have found TEMT gets inside the brain cells and de-aggregates bad protein.
“Electromagnetic waves have no problem getting into the brain, and then getting into the brain’s neurons,” Arendash says. “By contrast, drugs have a very difficult time getting into the brain and even more difficulty getting into the brain’s cells or neurons. We’re able to project our technology directly where it needs to be to be therapeutic against this disease and that’s inside the brain cells themselves. That, I believe, is why we’ve had some 15 years of failure within the Alzheimer’s research area and why we haven’t come up with an effective treatment. In my opinion, it’s not that we’re starting treatment too late, as many people now believe, so they are focusing on prevention, it’s that flawed drugs have been used. Drugs that can’t get into the brain, drugs that don’t address the disease process properly. That’s where we think we have a real advantage with this technology because electromagnetic waves get into the brain, and into the neurons.”
In addition, TEMT provides mitochondrial enhancement, which increases energy production in neurons and increases neuronal activity in brain regions impacted by Alzheimer’s.
Arendash’s team and the University of South Florida submitted an initial patent application in 2009, with its major claim being that electromagnetic waves can protect against and treat Alzheimer’s disease; the resulting issued patent is NeuroEM’s flagship patent for this technology. The company also submitted a follow-up patent application in 2014 describing a head device that can be used for treating humans with electromagnetic waves. Although Arendash’s application had an earlier priority date, Knight’s application went through the patent process quickly and was awarded. Arendash was surprised, but he and Knight quickly developed a great working relationship. “Eric is a terrific inventor, with a keen ability to see future technology that could help humans,” Arendash says.
Knight told him, “I’m not here to be a competitor, I’m here because I want to help.” Knight adds, “we became fast friends.”
In Connecticut, Knight helped raise funding for Arendash’s company. He lobbied for the Connecticut Angel Investor Forum, which he is a member of, to invest. Ultimately the forum put in about $150,000 and the company has raised a little more than $1 million, much of it from Connecticut stakeholders.
A Phase 1 clinical trial is underway at the Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute in Florida that is looking at 12 subjects with mild or moderate Alzheimer’s. Participants were recruited between October and December. For the trial, each participant will engage, or has already engaged, in a two-month regime of TEMT with the NeuroEM’s head device, called the MemorEM 1000. (Participants were recruited on a rolling basis; those who started in October have finished their two-month trial and those recruited in December won’t be done till February.)
The treatment is administered at home via a helmet-like device equipped with eight antennas that looks a bit like a large swimming cap. Participants receive the therapy for an hour in the morning and an hour at night. Each of the antennas on the device is roughly equivalent to a cellphone in terms of power, says Arendash.
Neither Knight nor Arendash are informed of progress of the study as it’s ongoing. Once the last participant has finished his or her two-month cycle it will take some time for the data from the study to be gathered. Since this is a Phase 1 study, the primary purpose is to measure the safety of the treatment, but Arendash says a variety of Alzheimer’s markers will be measured as well, and will let them get a sense “if this treatment could be effective against Alzheimer’s or not.”
Arendash expects to receive the raw data from the study in May or June and his statisticians will begin analyzing it at that point. He is optimistic about what the results of this trial and future follow-up clinical trials might contain. “Most Alzheimer’s researchers would be very happy if we could just stop the disease’s progression, and in fact I would be happy with that as well,” he says, “but with this technology and the results that we’ve seen in the Alzheimer’s mice, we believe there is a decent chance that we could, with the right set of parameters, and the right treatment paradigm, reverse the disease in humans.”
Arendash indicated that Knight and his patent, which NeuroEM has exclusive rights to, will be important for improving upon the existing head device in clinical trials following the present Phase 1 trial. “Eric’s patent contains a broad range of parameters and tools that could be most important for maximizing the chances that electromagnetic technology could be therapeutic in humans,” Arendash says.
For his part, Knight says, “It’s really rare that as an inventor I get a chance to impact the world in general.” He adds, “Many inventions help people in various ways whether it’s for sports or hobbies or home accessories, and those are all great, but making a fundamental difference in the health and well-being of people would be a whole different level.”
This article appeared in the January 2018 issue of Connecticut Magazine.
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