Microbiome and ALS: a $1.6 million grant for research

Alex Parker and members of his laboratory at the CHUM Research Centre (CRCHUM) have been awarded a three-year $1.6 million grant from the Weston Family Foundation as part of the Brain Health: 2021 – Lifestyle Approaches and Microbiome Contributions program.

Thanks to this grant, Alex Parker will be able to study, among other things, the ability of the probiotic L. rhamnosus HA-114 from the company Lallemand Health Solutions, with whom he collaborates, to slow the progression of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). This research project will be the subject of a pan-Canadian clinical study conducted on 100 patients and piloted at the CHUM.

Dr. Geneviève Matte, director of the ALS clinic at the CHUM, and Martine Tétreault, both researchers at the CRCHUM, Stéphane Bronner, director of preclinical and clinical research at the Rosell® Institute for the Microbiome and Probiotics, the research and development center of Lallemand Health Solutions based in Montreal, as well as researcher Matthieu Ruiz of the Montreal Heart Institute Research Center are part of this scientific venture.

"We have been collaborating with Alex Parker and his team for many years now and we are delighted to move forward with this new study which aims to document the health benefits of probiotics", explains Sylvie Binda, Vice-President of research at Lallemand Health Solutions.

"Together we hope to learn how certain bacterial strains protect the nervous system from degeneration in ALS. These findings will help develop new therapeutic approaches." says Alex Parker, who is also a professor in the department of neurosciences at the Université de Montréal.

An incurable neurodegenerative disease

Nearly 3,000 Canadians live with ALS, a disease characterized by the selective loss of motor neurons. These nerve cells serve as the internal wiring. They allow us to move our body as we please by allowing the transmission of signals to the muscles to contract.

In people with ALS, motor neurons gradually deteriorate. They then lose their muscular capacities until complete paralysis, the life expectancy being on average only 3 to 5 years after the diagnosis. Progressively, a person living with this rare disease loses the ability to walk, speak, eat, swallow and, ultimately, to breathe.

The microbiome on the radar

Recent research shows that the gut microbiota may be involved in the onset and progression of the disease. Identifying neuroprotective bacterial strains could therefore form the basis of new therapies.

In Alex Parker's laboratory, scientists have already discovered a probiotic that protects motor neurons from degeneration in several animal models of ALS (worm C. elegans and mice).

The next step in their research? Decipher the molecular mechanisms explaining this neuroprotective effect provided by the probiotic and verify whether it is possible to observe the same therapeutic response in the participants of the clinical study which will begin at the CHUM in the spring of 2022.