New research into gut-brain connection to benefit people living with MS

A Tasmanian researcher is aiming to shed new light on whether probiotics could affect cognitive functioning in people living with MS.

University of Tasmania PhD candidate Terry Purton (pictured) was recently awarded $70,000 in scholarship funding from MS Australia to further support her research into the gut-brain connection.

Ms Purton is studying with the School of Psychological Sciences. Her funding success was part of $6.9 million in new research grants recently announced by MS Australia.

“Cognitive dysfunction is common in people living with MS. It involves impairments to things like mental processing, memory and problem solving and can impact significantly on a person’s everyday life,” she said.

Recent research examining the gut-brain connection has found peculiarities in the gut bacteria (known as gut microbiome) of people living with MS.

“We know the gut microbiome plays a key role in immune functioning, as well as helping to regulate other important pathways in the body.

“The gut also has a direct communication channel with the brain, through the vagus nerve.”

Ms Purton said previous research has indicated that probiotic interventions targeting the gut microbiome may have therapeutic effects in MS.

“However, no research has specifically examined the effects of probiotics on cognitive functioning in MS,” she said.

MS is a neurological disorder that affects the central nervous system and can, to varying degrees, interfere with the transmission of nerve impulses throughout the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves.

Currently, there is no cure, with Tasmania having the highest prevalence of people living with MS in Australia.

The research project is generously supported by the Clifford Craig Foundation, Tasmania.

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