It turns out that specific strains of probiotics -- microorganisms that are found in the gut and aid digestion -- are able to help prevent, or even reverse, Parkinson's Disease. Newly released research from the Universities of Edinburgh and Dundee have found that certain probiotics can reduce the buildup of a specific protein linked to the onset of Parkinson's.
Researchers used worms that were specifically designed to produce the human version of the alpha-synuclein protein, which is associated with the deterioration of dopamine-producing nerve cells in the brain. This loss of dopamine is what causes the tremors and motor function problems that Parkinson's patients experience.
Scientists then fed these worms a variety of probiotics. One specific probiotic strain, Bacillus subtilis, was able to help break down already formed buildups of the alpha-synuclein protein. While tests on worms are a far cry from human trials, these results could encourage the development of new, probiotic-based treatments for Parkinson's.
Confirming a suspected connection
This isn't the first time that the health of the gut microbiome has been associated with Parkinson's. In June 2019, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine found that in mice, alpha-synuclein protein can travel from the intestines to the brain, where it eventually starts destroying dopamine-producing nerve cells.
Many large-cap pharmaceutical companies are working on developing treatments for Parkinson's. Biogen recently bought an Alzheimer's and Parkinson's drug candidate from Pfizer for up to $700 million. At the same time, Biogen is also partnered with Ionis Pharmaceuticals to develop a dedicated Parkinson's treatment, ION859. Neither of these drugs, however, targets the alpha-synuclein protein singled out in the research trial.