Changes to gut bacteria could hold key to slowing down Motor Neurone Disease 

28/03/2017 00:00 
A team from the Leonard Wolfson Experimental Neurology Centre (LWENC), run jointly by the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery (NHNN) and University College London (UCL), have been awarded the first ever major UK grant from the Reta Lila Weston Trust to investigate how changes in gut bacteria could slow the progression of neurodegenerative disorders such as Motor Neurone Disease (MND).
The Reta Lila Weston Trust 2016 Microbiome Funding Grant, worth £1.2 million, has been awarded to Dr Nikhil Sharma, a consultant neurologist at the NHNN and senior clinical researcher at UCL, for research into the microbiome and its role in some of the world’s most destructive neurodegenerative disorders.
On average, MND kills a third of people within a year and more than half within two years of diagnosis. Approximately 5,000 people in the UK have MND at any one time.
Garfield Mitchell, Chair of the Reta Lila Weston Trust, said: “Funding world-class research is vital if we are to discover whether the solution to some of the most devastating neurodegenerative conditions of our time lies not in our brains but in our gut. Dr Sharma’s research could lead to a major breakthrough in understanding whether the microbiome holds the key to preventing or slowing down the progress of diseases such as MND.”
Using the latest imaging methods the research will assess whether changes in gut microbiota (gut flora/bacteria) can influence the microglia cells in the brain that control inflammation and appear to be central in MND and other diseases like Alzheimer’s.  The team believes the microglia may be able to protect the motor neurones early in MND and thereby slow its progression.
Dr Sharma said: “It is remarkable that there is a two-way conversation between gut flora and cells in the brain. However, we do not know how this relates to progression in people living with MND. Not only will our research address this question, but we will explore whether changing the gut flora could slow progression in ‘real world’ patients. This could fundamentally change our approach to treating neurodegenerative diseases.”
It’s expected that the results, due in 2021, could be applied to a wide range of neurodegenerative disorders including Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Brian Dickie from the Motor Neuron Disease Association, said: “There is increasing evidence that microglia can influence the severity and progression of neurodegenerative diseases, but there are major challenges in developing drugs that target the brain. The idea of targeting activity in the gut, upstream of events occurring in the brain, offers exciting new prospects for treatment”
The study will be hosted in the LWENC Clinical Research Facility (CRF), the only UK clinic dedicated to experimental medicine and early phase clinical trials in neurodegeneration. The facility is part-funded by, and develops and evaluates novel therapies in partnership with, the NIHR UCLH Biomedical Research Centre.

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