By Liv Davies
Researchers have demonstrated that faecal transplants into the gut may be able to help people with Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s disease can be a devastating disease for many older people, and is the second most common age-related nerve degenerating disease after Alzheimer’s.
This disease of the brain reduces the amount of the neurotransmitter dopemine. Dopamine regulates movement in the body, amongst other functions. The lack of this neurotransmitter causes symptoms such as involuntary shaking and stiff muscles, as well as more unheard of symptoms such as constipation.
The gut contains bacteria that allow the absorption of nutrients into the body. The microbiome is composed of different bacteria within a certain area, and can impact the delivery of nutrients and toxins to the brain and other parts of the body. Faecal microbiota transplantation (FMT) can change the microbiome within the gut and can therefore influence the body.
Changes in the gut microbiota has been recently shown to precede Parkinson’s disease, and also determine its severity. For example, one study showed a negative correlation between the numbers of a particular bacteria called Prevotella in the gut and the severity of Parkinson’s symptoms. Therefore scientists have been studying whether fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT) can reduce the symptoms of Parkinsons.
In FMT, liquid filtrate faeces from individuals are screened for infectious diseases and transferred to a patients either by a nasal tube, or by enema. FMT from healthy individuals aims to replace unbalanced bacteria with types of bacteria that are balanced, in order to reduce Parkinson’s symptoms. However, scientists have only completed research on mice models that have been developed to mimic both the genetic and physical presentation of parkinsons.
Scientists have not yet pinned down the process by which bacteria change levels of dopamine. However it is thought that a microbiota imbalance causes a reduction of correct nutrients that are delivered to the brain, and allows toxins to accumulate. Therefore changing patients microbiota might be beneficial to improve their symptoms.
Reduction of Parkinson’s symptoms which include both the motor symptoms and gut symptoms such as constipation, were improved in mice models that had undergone FMT in order to rebalance their microbiota.
A reduction in symptoms such as constipation, are coherent with general knowledge of gut function, however the link between gut function and diseases like Parkinson’s are surprising. Since patients already using FMT for other diseases display minimal side effects, it seems a viable and cheap option for clinicians to treat Parkinsons. Scientists must first ensure that it is safe and effective for use in humans, so more clinical trials in humans are warranted. However, FMT does seem to offer great promise for Parkinson’s patients, especially as the world undertakes the problem of an aging population.