Scientists engineer a bacteria to produce a drug used to treat Parkinson’s disease

It even reduces treatment complications.
Derya Ozdemir

A team of researchers has created a bacteria that can produce a steady and consistent source of medicine inside a patient’s gut, suggesting the possibility for genetically edited bacteria to be an efficient Parkinson’s disease treatment.

Moreover, the researchers have shown via preclinical experiments that the novel treatment technique is not only safe and well-tolerated, but it also reduces side effects that can occur when other treatments are utilized.

An engineered probiotic

For long, scientists have been experimenting with ways of engineering bacteria to fit our needs for decades. The new research is the latest example of that.

The study's authors revealed an incremental step forward in designing a novel strain of the human probiotic E.coli Nissle 1917 that has been created to continuously generate L-DOPA, which is a Parkinson’s disease drug that acts as a precursor to dopamine.

L-DOPA has been used to treat Parkinson's patients since its development; nevertheless, it has been demonstrated that after around five years of L-DOPA therapy, individuals frequently experience side effects known as dyskinesias, which refer to a category of movement disorders that are characterized by involuntary muscle movements. These side effects are thought to be caused by the drug's failure to reach the brain consistently.

In the new study aimed to solve this issue, the researchers investigated whether bacteria producing L-DOPA in the gut could result in consistent delivery of the medicine to the brain, and successful in getting the altered bacteria to "eat up" a chemical called tyrosine and spit out L-DOPA.

"We are harnessing the metabolic capability of beneficial microbes that live in the gut to synthesize a molecule that is the ‘gold standard’ therapeutic strategy for Parkinson’s disease," explained Anumantha Kanthasamy, professor and Johnny Isakson Chair, Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar at the University of Georgia in Athens, Ga.

"This next-generation microbial bioengineering technology is designed so that Parkinson’s patients could make their own L-DOPA with microbes in their gut."

Producing Parkinson’s disease drug in the gut

The researchers also demonstrated that using the modified bacteria resulted in stable blood levels of L-DOPA, which improved motor and cognitive abilities in mice. This indicated that engineered bacteria were producing therapeutically effective volumes of the medicine.

Piyush Padhi, a researcher working on the project, explained their accomplishment by saying, "After several iterations and improving gut microbiome-based drug delivery technology, we have developed a gut-healthy probiotic bacteria that can produce stable levels of L-DOPA in a way that can be highly tuned to deliver the dose required for each patient."

The team is currently focusing on modifying the strategy to treat other conditions that necessitate continuous drug dosing, and the next phase in the research will be to optimize the modified bacteria in preparation for human trials.

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