Publish Date: 
Monday, May 27, 2024 - 15:15

US funding for Parkinson’s disease treatments targeting the gut microbiome

Researchers based at Australia’s Translational Research Institute (TRI) have received major funding from the United States Department of Defense (DoD) to develop Parkinson’s disease (PD) treatments by targeting the gut microbiome.

Associate Professor Richard Gordon (pictured left, with Associate Professor
Alex Lehn
) and his team from the QUT School of Biomedical Sciences were awarded two grants from the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP) totalling $4 million.

Associate Professor Gordon said the research team will use a combination of human patient studies and disease models to identify new classes of
therapeutics as treatments for PD.

The team 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.

Researchers will leverage TRI facilities including the Clinical Research Facility (CRF) for patient recruitment and collecting samples, the Gnotobiotic Facility
for the microbiome work and Biological Research Facilities for testing new therapeutics.

Recruitment for the microbiome study will start around August and will be open to both people with PD and healthy volunteers. The study will involve providing a routine blood sample at TRI’s CRF and a take-home microbiome kit which participants can mail back to the research team.

“The patient samples will provide the basis for our microbiome research program and the development of new treatment approaches,” Associate Professor Gordon said. “Our study participants are at the heart of our research.”

There are no effective treatments for stopping Parkinson’s disease progression.

PD affects millions of people worldwide and is the fastest growing neurological disorder globally, with the increase in prevalence being linked to chemical exposures from industry and occupations such as farming, firefighting and the military.

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

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

The research includes collaborating neurologists from the Royal Brisbane and Women’s and Princess Alexandra hospitals including Associate Professor John O’Sullivan, Dr Robert Adam and TRI-based Associate Professor Alex Lehn, who has appointments at Metro South Health and QUT.

They will also partner with researchers at the Isakson Centre for Neurological Disease Research at the University of Georgia in the US.

“Our data suggests that the pathways we’ve uncovered in Parkinson’s patients have an important role in maintaining a healthy gut and function as a protective brake to limit harmful swelling in healthy people,” Associate Professor Gordon said.

“Rather than taking the current approach of blocking immune pathways that are activated, our research will explore the potential of restoring gut health, resolving immune activation via the gut to prevent vulnerable neurons from damage.

“If our approach is successful, it will open new avenues for potentially slowing or stopping Parkison’s disease and improving the quality of life for millions living with this condition.”

The new research will build on work funded by the Michael J Fox Foundation and Shake It Up Australia Foundation.

Clyde Campbell, the CEO and founder of Shake It Up, who was diagnosed with PD in 2011, welcomed the CDMRP funding.

“Associate Professor Gordon and his team at TRI are completing groundbreaking research that has the potential to make a life-changing difference for people living with PD,” Mr Campbell said.

“We are very pleased to see the exciting progress being made, as well as the recognition of Associate Professor Gordon’s significant contribution to Parkinson’s research in Australia.

” The QUT research team will be funded for four years. They are the recipients of the largest sum of CDMRP funding awarded in Australia by the US DoD. The two CDMRP grants include an Investigator Initiated Research Award and a Synergistic Idea Award.

The study will be advertised on the QUT and TRI websites. For more information about participating in the research, email Associate Professor Gordon at [email protected].