There is a lot of research currently being conducted that is exploring the relationship between the gastrointestinal system and Parkinson’s. A growing body of data suggests that the bacteria in our guts may be having an infuential role.
Recently researchers at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland have published the results of a study in which they used microscopic roundworms to explore bacteria that can influence the pathology associated with Parkinson’s.
And they announced that the bacteria that they had identified is present in many available probiotics.
In today’s post, we will look at what roundworms are, what is meant by probiotic, and what this new research found.
Not the PDUK committee. Source: Eagle
What I am about to do is utterly inappropriate, but it will hopefully provide readers with a small insight into what is happening behind the scenes in Parkinson’s research.
Several years ago I was a member of the Parkinson’s UK project grant review panel, and our job was to review applications from fellow researchers who were requesting funds to conduct large and ambitious projects. Following several weeks of reviewing the grants, we had all travelled down to London to discuss a set of applications that had been shortlisted for funding. About 30 people (both academics and PwPs) were in the room, sitting around a large square of tables, and it was our job to select the grants that should be funded.
There was a lot of pros and cons being discussed for each application… and then we came to one particular grant that I think had caught everyones eye.
It involved using C. elegans to screen for gut bacteria that may influence aspects of Parkinson’s biology.
What are C. elegans?
Caenorhabditis elegans (or simply C. elegans) are transparent nematode – also known as roundworms. They are about 1 mm in length, and they have very well characterised nervous systems (useless pub quiz fact: C. elegans have 302 neurons and 56 glial cells in total, which communicate through approximately 6400 chemical synapses, 900 gap junctions, and 1500 neuromuscular junctions – like I said, well characterised!).
Caenorhabditis elegans – cute huh? Source: Nematode
Given their well characterised nervous systems, C. elegans provide a useful tool for studying biology. They are easy to grow/maintain, they have an overall life span of 2-3 weeks, and researchers have developed a wide range of tools that allow for genetic manipulation to address specific questions.
But the idea of using these little guys to study the bacteria of the gut was such a novel idea. The grant funding panel sat there wondering if these creatures even had bacteria in their guts (they do – click here to read a review of the first 3 studies on this topic, all published in 2016).
I liked the novelty of the approach and thought that the high-throughput nature of the study would provide quick answers (a lot of bacteria could get studied very quickly using C. Elegans, compared to other organisms like mice).
But there was a lot of debate about this application, centred mainly around the idea of “How will any of this translate to humans?”
Eventually I think curiosity won the day and the committee agree that the application should be funded. And I’m glad it was, because very recently the first results of the study have been published,… and they are really interesting.
What did the study find?