‘Completely groundbreaking’: Parkinson’s research will look at gut microbiome link

Australian researchers will examine new approaches to slow or stop the progression of Parkinson's.

Australian researchers will examine new approaches to slow or stop the progression of Parkinson's. Photo: QUT

Australian researchers are hoping to slow or stop the progression of Parkinson’s disease by targeting the gut.

Two grants, totalling $4 million, have been given to Associate Professor Richard Gordon’s research team from the QUT School of Biomedical Sciences.

The researchers hope to develop drugs that will target bugs inside the gut of Parkinson’s disease patients to slow or potentially stop progression.

There is currently no effective treatment available to stop Parkinson’s disease, which is the world’s fast-growing neurological disorder.

Cases are expected to triple in Australia by 2050 and currently the disease affects 150,000 Australians.

Emerging evidence

Gordon says there have been studies that have shown there is a difference in gut health between patients with Parkinson’s and those who do not have it.

“Emerging evidence suggests that many of the known pathological features of Parkinson’s, such as unresolving inflammation and activation of the immune system, are closely linked to an imbalance of microbes in the gut,” Gordon said.

“This unresolving inflammation, over a prolonged period, has been shown to damage the vulnerable dopamine-producing neurons that are gradually lost in people with Parkinson’s.”

Immune system inflammation

Gordon said people with Parkinson’s disease have been known to have persistent inflammation of the immune system, which is suspected of being related to a gut microbe imbalance.

The research team will look at human patient studies and disease models in hopes of identifying new classes of drugs as treatments for patients with Parkinson’s.

“We will also develop engineered microbes as live biotherapeutics and test their potential to slow or stop Parkinson’s progression by altering the gut ecosystem and activating protective mechanisms across the gut-brain axis,” Gordon said.

“Our data suggests that the pathways we’ve uncovered in Parkinson’s patients have an important role in maintaining a healthy gut microenvironment and function as a protective brake to limit harmful inflammation in healthy individuals.”

He said rather than taking the “usual pathway”, which can drive inflammation, the QUT research team will look at the potential for restoring the gut microbial ecosystem.

“If our approach is successful, it will open new avenues by which we can attempt to slow or stop Parkinson’s disease and improve the quality of life for millions living with this condition,” he said.

New research is ‘completely groundbreaking’

The funding is provided by the US Department of Defense and will build on work that is funded by the the Michael J Fox Foundation and Shake It Up Australia Foundation.

Clyde Campbell, the chairman and co-founder of Shake It Up Australia Foundation, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2011, said the research Gordon and his team was working on is “completely groundbreaking”.

Recruitment for the study is set to begin in August and will be open to people with the disease and healthy volunteers.

The study will involve providing a routine blood sample at a clinical facility and a take-home microbiome kit that participants can mail back to the research team.

They will collaborate with neurologists from the Royal Brisbane Hospital and Princess Alexandra Hospital and partner with researchers at the University of Georgia in the US.

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