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Stool transplants show promise for Parkinson's disease treatment

Emerging research suggests a pivotal role of the gut microbiome in Parkinson's disease. (CREDIT: Stephanie Cowan)


Parkinson's disease, a prevalent neurodegenerative disorder globally, continues to rise in occurrence, influenced by factors such as pesticide exposure and aging demographics.


The disease manifests through a spectrum of symptoms, encompassing both motoric and non-motoric manifestations. While the motor symptoms, including tremors and stiffness, typically trigger diagnosis, non-motor symptoms such as loss of smell and constipation often precede diagnosis by up to two decades in many cases.


 
 

Gut Heath: Key to the treatment of Parkinson's disease


A key feature of Parkinson's disease is the misfolding and aggregation of a protein called alpha-synuclein. These aggregates damage dopamine-producing nerve cells in the brain, precipitating the hallmark symptoms of the disease. Current treatments primarily involve medications aimed at replacing dopamine but are fraught with side effects and diminishing efficacy over time.


MDS-UPDRS part 3 motor scores (A) and changes in MDS-UPDRS part 3 motor scores
MDS-UPDRS part 3 motor scores (A) and changes in MDS-UPDRS part 3 motor scores (B), by study visit. Data are means for the off-medication state. Error bars represent standard error of the mean. MDS-UPDRS, Movement Disorders Society Unified Parkinson's Disease Rating Scale. (CREDIT: The Lancet)


Emerging research suggests a pivotal role of the gut microbiome in Parkinson's disease. Studies suggest a correlation between altered gut microbiota, increased intestinal inflammation, and a disrupted gut barrier in patients with Parkinson's.


 
 

Researchers from the neurology department at University Hospital Ghent (UZ Gent), led by Prof. Patrick Santens, partnered with Prof. Debby Laukens of Ghent University and Prof. Roosmarijn Vandenbroucke at the VIB-UGent Center for Inflammation Research to explore this connection further.


Their collaborative effort, named GUT-PARFECT, aimed to investigate the potential of fecal microbiota transplant (FMT) in ameliorating Parkinson's symptoms over a one-year period.


 

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The study enrolled participants with early-stage Parkinson's disease and healthy donors who contributed stool samples to the Gentse Stoelgangbank. Patients received the donor stool via a tube inserted nasally, delivering the mixture directly into the small intestine.


Dr. Arnout Bruggeman, a researcher at VIB-UGent-UZ Gent and the study's lead author, expressed optimism about the results. "Our findings are promising! After twelve months, participants who underwent the FMT exhibited significant improvement in motor symptoms, a key metric in assessing Parkinson's progression."


 
 

The improvement was particularly notable between the sixth and twelfth months post-transplant, suggesting a potential sustained benefit. Moreover, participants reported reduced constipation, a common and distressing symptom in Parkinson's disease. However, further investigation is warranted to ascertain whether this treatment modality also halts disease progression.


From left to right: Dr. Arnout Bruggeman, Prof. Debby Laukens, Prof. Roosmarijn
From left to right: Dr. Arnout Bruggeman, Prof. Debby Laukens, Prof. Roosmarijn. (CREDIT: University Hospital Ghent)


The study's success was facilitated by support from patient organizations, donations to the UGent Parkinson Research Fund, and the participants' willingness to undergo the invasive procedures, noted Prof. Patrick Santens. "Securing funding for this research was challenging due to initial doubts about feasibility," he remarked.


 
 

Prof. Roosmarijn Vandenbroucke emphasized the potential of FMT as a novel therapeutic avenue for Parkinson's disease. "Our study provides promising evidence that FMT could offer a safe, effective, and cost-efficient means of improving symptoms and enhancing quality of life for millions of Parkinson's patients worldwide," she said.


Looking ahead, Prof. Debby Laukens underscored the importance of identifying beneficial bacteria for targeted therapies. "Our next objective is to secure funding to elucidate the specific bacteria exerting a positive influence.


This could pave the way for the development of a 'bacterial pill' or other tailored interventions as alternatives to FMT," she explained.


 
 

The GUT-PARFECT study marks a significant stride in the quest for innovative Parkinson's treatments. By shedding light on the gut-brain axis and the potential of FMT, researchers offer hope for improved management and potentially even disease modification in Parkinson's disease.






For more science news stories check out our New Discoveries section at The Brighter Side of News.


 

Note: Materials provided by The Physiological Society. Content may be edited for style and length.


 
 

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