Tübingen (Germany). December,10th, 2020. Jun.-Prof. Dr. Dr. Michela Deleidi, a Parkinson’s researcher at the DZNE’s Tübingen site, has been awarded a “Consolidator Grant” of the European Research Council (ERC) worth about two million euros. With this funding she aims to investigate, if Parkinson’s disease starts in the gut.
Parkinson’s is a severe disease of the nervous system, characterized by both motor impairment and non-motor symptoms. Although it has been found that gene mutations play a role in certain cases, the triggers of the disease are largely unknown. Traditionally, Parkinson’s is considered as a disease of the brain. However, the origins could possibly lie elsewhere. “Findings from recent years suggest that Parkinson’s disease involves the gut before affecting the brain. This leads to the hypothesis that the gut might be the site of disease initiation and that Parkinson’s is triggered by intestinal inflammatory processes”, Deleidi said.
With the ERC funding, she and her research group intend to follow up this hypothesis. “Our goal is to find out what could trigger inflammatory processes in the intestine that may ultimately lead to Parkinson’s disease. The trigger might be infections. Thus, to mimic gut inflammation occurring in Parkinson’s patients, we will employ a variety of laboratory models of intestinal infections. Another key aspect of our project will be to identify the key molecular players in the communication between the inflamed gut and the brain. Ultimately, the findings from this project should contribute to earlier diagnosis, better prevention and better treatment”, Deleidi said.
The research will be based on laboratory studies and involve state-of-the-art methodologies such as single-cell sequencing and so-called organoids created from patient-derived stem cells. Organoids are complex, laboratory-grown tissue cultures that replicate key functions of organs. “Specifically, we intend to generate organoids of the gut and brain and study them by means of an organ-on-a-chip approach. The chip uses tiny leads and channels to ensure that the artificial tissue is optimally supplied with nutrients“, Deleidi explained. “Our project will be strongly interdisciplinary, combining expertise from neuroscience, immunology, and microbiology.”
Michela Deleidi started her research group at the DZNE as a Helmholtz Young investigator in 2016. She is also an Assistant Professor (Juniorprofessor) at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Tübingen. Deleidi is currently involved in various research projects on Parkinson’s disease, including major international collaborations.