US DoD funds development of Parkinson’s disease treatment targeting the gut microbiome

QUT researchers, based at the Translational Research Institute (TRI), have received A$4million in funding from the US Department of Defense (DoD) to develop new treatments for Parkinson’s disease by targeting the gut microbiome and gut-brain axis.

  • $4 million to fund two projects to slow or stop Parkinson’s disease
  • Researchers will develop new drugs and engineered gut microbes as live biotherapeutics to activate protective mechanisms in the gut and brain
  • Goal is to restore the gut microbiome, limit inflammation and prevent vulnerable neurons from degeneration.

Associate Professor Richard Gordon and his team from the QUT School of Biomedical Sciences were awarded two grants from the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP) totalling A$4 million to expand their Parkinson’s research program and test innovative new approaches to slow or stop disease progression, for which there are currently no effective treatments.

Parkinson’s disease (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 industrialization, and occupations where chemicals are frequently used, such as farming, firefighting, and military service.

Associate Professor Richard Gordon

“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,” Professor 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.”

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

“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,” he 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.

“Rather than taking the usual approach of blocking immune pathways that drive inflammation, our research will explore the potential of restoring the gut microbial ecosystem and harnessing protective factors lost in the disease to limit inflammation and prevent vulnerable neurons from degeneration.

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

The US DoD-funded research program will build on work funded by The Michael J. Fox Foundation and Shake It Up Australia Foundation on the NLRP3 inflammasome and the gut microbiome in Professor Gordon’s group.

Chairman and co-founder of Shake It Up Australia Foundation Clyde Campbell, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2011, welcomed the landmark CDMRP funding for Australian Parkinson’s research.

“Dr Gordon and his team 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 Professor Gordon’s significant contribution to Parkinson’s research in Australia.”

Research group
The research group developing new treatments for Parkinson’s disease by targeting the gut microbiome and gut-brain axis.

The clinical arm of the research program will include collaborating neurologists from the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital and the Princess Alexandra hospital, including Associate Professor Alex Lehn, Associate Professor John O’Sullivan and Dr Robert Adam. The research team will also partner with researchers at the Isakson Centre for Neurological Disease Research at the University of Georgia in the USA.

The QUT research program will be funded for four years and represent the largest quantum of CDMRP funding awarded in Australia by the US Department of Defense. The two CDMRP grants include an Investigator Initiated Research Award (IIRA) and a Synergistic Idea Award (SIA). Both projects were also shortlisted to be featured on the CDMRP Parkinson’s Research Program (PRP) website and promotional material to DoD stakeholders, including the US Congress.

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