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Biotech, Institute Partner on Gut Microbe Links to Parkinson’s

Gut microbes

Gut microbes cultured in an artistic design (Nicola Fawcett, Wikimedia Commons)

18 June 2018. Researchers from a biotechnology company and a research institute are starting a joint project to find treatments for Parkinson’s disease targeting bacteria in the gut. Financial and intellectual property aspects of the partnership between Axial Biotherapeutics Inc. in Boston, and Parkinson’s Institute and Clinical Center in Sunnyvale, California were not disclosed.

The collaboration plans to advance research by Axial Biotherapeutics’ co-founder Sarkis Mazmanian, a microbiologist at California Institute of Technology. As reported by Science and Enterprise in November 2016 at the company’s founding, Mazmanian’s lab at Caltech studies molecular processes of symbiotic bacteria in the gut on various human disorders, combining work in genomics, microbiology, immunology, and neuroscience. Axial Biotherapeutics has an exclusive, worldwide license from Caltech for research by Mazmanian on signaling pathways between communities of bacteria, viruses, and other microbes in the human gut, known as the gut microbiome, and diseases of the central nervous system.

Parkinson’s Institute and Clinical Center conducts both basic research on Parkinson’s disease and clinical trials of experimental treatments. Parkinson’s disease occurs when the brain produces less of the substance dopamine, a neurotransmitter that sends signals from one neuron or nerve cell to another. As the level of dopamine lowers, people with Parkinson’s disease become less able to control their bodily movements and emotions. Symptoms include tremors, i.e. shaking, slowness and rigidity in movements, loss of facial expression, decreased ability to control blinking and swallowing, and in some cases, depression and anxiety. According to Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, some 60,000 new cases of Parkinson’s disease are diagnosed in the U.S. each year, with more than 10 million people worldwide living with the disease.

One target of Mazmanian’s research is alpha-synuclein proteins believed to play a role in the development of Parkinson’s disease, or PD, where too much or abnormal forms of the protein can in some cases be toxic to nerve cells in the brain or cause the cells to malfunction. Findings by Mazmanian and others with lab animals show promoting or limiting gut microbes responsible for over-production of alpha-synuclein proteins can likewise promote or inhibit physiological signs Parkinson’s disease in the animals, suggesting signaling pathways from the gut to the brain. In addition, colonizing the gastrointestinal, or GI, tracts of lab mice with gut microbes from Parkinson’s disease patients enhance Parkinson’s-like physical impairments, compared to gut microbes from healthy individuals.

Researchers from Axial and Parkinson’s Institute are expected to test these and other interventions based on gut microbes in preclinical studies with cellular models and lab animals provided by Parkinson’s Institute. “Our team is conducting advanced clinical research,” says Parkinson’s Institute CEO Carrolee Barlow in an Axial statement, “which suggests that disorders like Parkinson’s are not just a brain condition but very likely have origins in the GI system.” She adds that, “It is our ultimate goal to determine if this approach can stop PD from progressing.”

Axial Therapeutics also announced that Barlow is joining its Neurology Scientific and Clinical Advisory Board, and will help guide the company’s clinical programs.

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