Top 10 Parkinson’s Disease Stories of 2021

Marisa Wexler, MS avatar

by Marisa Wexler, MS |

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All through 2021, Parkinson’s News Today brought you coverage of cutting-edge science and developments in treatment related to Parkinson’s disease.

Here are the top 10 most-read Parkinson’s news stories of the year.

We look forward to continuing to cover news for the Parkinson’s community in 2022.

No. 10 – “Health Canada Allows Start of DA01 Trial Testing Cell Therapy

DA01 is an experimental cell therapy containing dopamine-producing neurons derived from human embryonic stem cells. The therapy, delivered into the brain, aims to repopulate the cells that are lost in Parkinson’s. BlueRock Therapeutics is conducting a Phase 1 clinical trial (NTC04802733) to test DA01 in 10 Parkinson’s patients, ages 60 to 76. The trial dosed its first patient in the U.S. in June 2021, and was cleared to start in Canada a few months later.

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No. 9 – “New Exercise Recommendations Issued for Patients

The Parkinson’s Foundation and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) teamed up in 2021 to release updated guidelines for physical activity and exercise for patients. The guidelines recommend about 2.5 hours of moderate to vigorous exercise per week, with specific recommendations for different exercise types. For example, the guidelines recommend aerobic exercise for at least three 30-minute sessions per week. They also cover weight training, stretching, and working to improve balance and agility. Working with a physical therapist also was recommended.

No. 8 – “Probiotics May Reduce Some Signs of Gut Inflammation

An emerging body of research suggests that the gut microbiome — the bacteria and other microorganisms that live in your digestive tract — is not properly regulated in people with Parkinson’s disease. The research suggests that probiotic supplements, which contain bacteria thought to benefit gut health, may be helpful for patients. Here, scientists tested a probiotic supplement called Symprove (sold by a company with the same name) in laboratory models of the gut. Results suggested that the treatment changed the composition of the gut microbiome, and also reduced signs of inflammation. Thus, probiotic supplements could prove a useful add-on therapy for patients, the investigators said.

No. 7 – “Uric Acid May Help to Protect Neurons, Ease Non-motor Symptoms

Uric acid is a waste product that also acts as an antioxidant — a man-made or natural substance that may prevent or delay some types of damage to cells in the body. A team of scientists in China analyzed uric acid levels in the blood of 88 Parkinson’s patients, as well as 68 people without the disease (controls). Results showed that Parkinson’s patients had significantly lower uric acid levels than the controls. Moreover, among the patients, those with late disease had lower levels or uric acid than those with early disease. Additionally, patients with less uric acid in their blood tended to report worse depression, anxiety, cognitive impairment, apathy, and difficulty swallowing; low uric acid levels also predicted less grey matter in the brain. Further study is needed, however, according to researchers.

No. 6 – “Microba, Scientists See Road to Treatment Starting in Patients’ Gut

The biotechnology company Microba teamed up with scientists at the University of Queensland, in Australia, early in 2021 with the aim of studying the gut microbiome of people with Parkinson’s disease. Their joint study will take advantage of Microba’s metagenomics technology, which allows researchers to analyze the genetic material in a sample of bacteria. From that data, the researchers hope to draw conclusions about the types and activity of bacteria in the sample. The study will include research with patients and also in animal models, with the ultimate goal of identifying new biomarkers and treatment targets for the neurodegenerative disorder.

No. 5 – “Turmeric Oil Derivatives May Help to Protect Dopaminergic Neurons

Ar-turmerone is a compound found in the spice turmeric, and is known to have anti-inflammatory properties. Scientists in Japan tested ar-turmerone and several of its derivatives in midbrain slice cultures, a cellular model of the brain. Results showed that the compounds prevented the death of dopamine-producing neurons — the nerve cells that are damaged in Parkinson’s. This effect was independent of microglia, a type of immune cell that lives in the brain; instead, ar-turmerone helped the neurons combat a type of cellular damage called oxidative stress. The findings suggested that ar-turmerone derivatives may offer new ways of treating the disease.

No. 4 – “Probiotic as Add-on Treatment Seen to Aid Patients in Small Study

In a small clinical trial conducted in Taiwan, 25 Parkinson’s patients were given a probiotic called PS128 nightly for 12 weeks (three months), in addition to their standard treatments. The probiotic is sold under the brand name Solace in the U.S. According to the supplement’s maker, Bened Biomedical, adding PS128 eased Parkinson’s symptoms, both in the “on” and “off” states, when medications are or are not effectively controlling symptoms. Particular improvement was seen for akinesia, or abnormally slow movements, in the “off” state. The supplement also led to lower levels of the inflammatory molecule myeloperoxidase in participants’ blood. PS128 thus may be considered a psychobiotic — a probiotic with mental health effects — according to researchers.

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No. 3 – “Bacteria in Patients’ Guts Show Changes That May Weigh on Disease

Scientists in the U.K. conducted a meta-analysis of previously published studies on changes to gut bacteria in Parkinson’s disease — this large-scale analysis collectively covered 1,269 people with or without Parkinson’s. Results indicated that Parkinson’s patients have some characteristic changes in the gut microbiome, particularly impacting bacteria that affect the activity of the immune system. However, the analysis also showed a great deal of study-to-study variation, likely due to methodological differences, so the researchers stressed the importance of standardizing how this kind of research is done moving forward. That would provide scientists with a more holistic understanding of the relationship between Parkinson’s and the gut microbiome.

No. 2 – “Low Levels of Vitamin B6 and B12 Linked to Patients’ Nerve Damage

Scientists at the University of Rochester, in New York, described three people with Parkinson’s who developed neuropathy, or nerve damage, with symptoms such as numbness, tingling, or pain in the extremities. Analyses revealed that all three patients had abnormally low levels of vitamin B6 and/or B12 — providing supplements of these vitamins eased neuropathy symptoms. The team suggested that testing for low levels of these vitamins, and supplementing where appropriate, may be beneficial for Parkinson’s patients with neuropathy.

No. 1 – “Blood Glucose Levels Appear to Affect Motor Skills and Their Decline

Parkinson’s patients with abnormally low or abnormally high blood sugar levels are more likely to have substantial motor or balance problems over time, according to research into the levels of a marker of blood sugar. In a study, researchers analyzed levels of glycated hemoglobin, a marker of blood sugar, in 244 Parkinson’s patients who were followed for at least two years. Results suggested that patients with blood sugar levels at either extreme experienced worse balance and motor function than people with moderate levels. Abnormal blood sugar also was associated with a faster time to reach mild cognitive impairment. The researchers noted a need for more and longer-term studies to test whether therapies aiming to normalize blood sugar might benefit Parkinson’s patients.

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At Parkinson’s News Today, we hope these stories and all of our reporting throughout 2022 help to inform and improve the lives of everyone affected by Parkinson’s.

We wish all our readers a happy new year.