Axial Given $440K Grant to Develop Model for Studies of Gut-Brain Axis

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by David Melamed, PhD |

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Axial Biotherapeutics announced a $440,000 grant from the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research to support its efforts to develop a model that can mimic the nervous system of the gastrointestinal tract, and help in evaluating potential Parkinson’s disease treatments.

Though Parkinson’s is primarily considered a neurodegenerative disorder, research has shown that the disease can affect the local network of nerves that innervate the gastrointestinal tract, or the enteric nervous system.

Patient reports of constipation as a disease symptom were among the first connections made between Parkinson’s and digestion. Investigations found that constipation often appeared before motor symptoms, and showed a correlation with disease severity .

A common pathology of Parkinson’s is the formation of Lewy bodies, abnormal aggregates of the alpha synuclein protein in the brain. Animal studies report that aggregates of alpha synuclein also appear to form in the gut and spread to the brain.

By using a line of mice with a genetic mutation causing them to overexpress alpha synuclein, researchers at Axial are hoping to model the enteric nervous system as it might function in Parkinson’s patients.

The goal of creating this model would be for preclinical studies of the effectiveness of small molecule treatments on synucleinopathy, or diseases characterized by alpha synuclein aggregation.

“We are honored to have the support of The Michael J. Fox Foundation,” David Donabedian, PhD, co-founder and CEO of Axial, said in a press release. “This new funding … allows us to advance our drug discovery approach by producing a model of the enteric nervous system to study and test the effects of drug candidates on synucleinopathy.”

Recent research also indicates that bacteria in the gut may be involved with the onset of Parkinson’s. This work suggests that the enteric nervous system may act as a connection — a gut-brain axis — between gut bacteria and the disease’s neurological symptoms.

“PD is a complex neurodegenerative disease for which novel therapies are needed,” Donabedian said. “Through our scientific rationale, centered on harnessing the gut-brain axis, we believe that we can alleviate motor and gastrointestinal symptoms associated with the disease.”

The funding comes from the Fox Foundation’s Therapeutic Pipeline Program, which awards research that has the potential to alter the course of Parkinson’s disease or improve upon previous treatment approaches to raise standards of care.

“Our Foundation is dedicated to accelerating progress toward a cure for Parkinson’s and improved therapies for patients living with the disease today,” said Marco Baptista, PhD, the foundation’s vice president of research programs. “Crucial to that work is creation of model systems with which to interrogate disease biology and test novel therapies, and we are proud to support Axial in this effort.”

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