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HUS trials fecal transplant therapy for Parkinson's patients

A new Finnish study targets the gut-brain connection in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.

Meilahden sairaala-alueen kyltti.
Some 16,000 people in Finland are living with Parkinson’s disease. Image: Tiina Jutila / Yle

Helsinki University hospital is piloting a year-long proof-of-concept study to examine whether fecal transplantation could help treat patients with Parkinson's disease.

Some Parkinson’s patients have divergent gut microbes and researchers hope to find out if fecal transplant therapy could help alleviate symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative central nervous system disorder.

"This is a so-called proof-of-concept study where we want to for the first time determine if anything happens," said neurologist Filip Scheperjans, a member of the research team.

The study makes HUS a forerunner, according to Scheperjans, who said he was only aware of three other similar studies worldwide.

"This is a new approach to Parkinson’s and is based on some ten years of base research examining the relationship between the gut microbiome and Parkinson's disease," he explained.

In addition to finding out if patients’ symptoms improved, Scheperjans said scientists were interested in determining whether patients developed complications from the therapy.

"We will monitor patients’ mobility, stiffness, slowness and tremors following transplants," he explained.

Growing problem

The research group is selecting 48 Parkinson’s patients with abnormal gut bacteria for the study. The participants will either receive a stool transplant from a healthy donor or placebo therapy.

Because of the invasive nature of the procedure, the placebo effect could be significant, according to researchers.

"We don’t really know what all the therapy will affect. This is why we will conduct broad surveys and use imaging to better understand what happens in the body after a fecal transplant," Scheperjans added.

The upcoming study is, however, not broad enough to determine whether fecal transplants can slow down the progression of Parkinson’s.

Some 16,000 people in Finland are living with Parkinson’s, with one out of one hundred 65-year-olds developing the disease. Parkinson’s is becoming more prevalent and researchers expect cases to double by 2040. Scientists have, however, said the increase can’t entirely be attributed to the population aging.

Genetic makeup accounts for some 30 percent of Parkinson’s cases, according to Scheperjans, who said environmental factors—many of which are still unknown—are behind the rest.

"We’ve been able to show that frequent use of antibiotics can increase the risk of developing Parkinson’s ten to 15 years later," he said.

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