Newswise — Johns Hopkins Medicine is one of three research institutions with scientists awarded $8.9 million to study the growing body of evidence that Parkinson’s disease originates among cells in the gut and travels up the body’s neurons to the brain. The research aims to develop treatments to prevent or halt progression of the disease.

The three-year initiative is led by Michael Kaplitt, M.D., Ph.D., professor of neurological surgery at Weill Cornell Medicine. In addition to Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers, the study will include the research team of Per Svenningsson, M.D., Ph.D., professor of neurology at Karolinska Institutet and Karolinska University Hospital.

The grant is provided by Aligning Science Across Parkinson’s (ASAP), an initiative that funds targeted basic science research on Parkinson’s disease. The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research is ASAP’s implementation partner and issued the grant.

“It is exciting to be part this fantastic team of international investigators. We are developing excellent scientific models to study the disease’s progression from the start. Our multidisciplinary approach holds tremendous promise in identifying innovative ways to treat Parkinson’s disease,” says Ted Dawson, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Cell Engineering and professor of neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Dawson’s research in mouse models suggests that misfolded alpha-synuclein protein, which is a defining characteristic of Parkinson’s disease, can travel along the nerve bundle known as the vagus nerve, which runs like an electrical cable from the stomach and small intestine into the base of the brain.

Their team aims to conduct additional research on whether blocking the transmission route could be key to preventing the physical and cognitive manifestations of Parkinson’s disease.