Does the administration of probiotics to patients with mild Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) reduce neuroinflammation, improve cognitive functioning and positively affect neurophysiological measures?

The Alzheimer’s Association has recently awarded Dr Nicoletta Nicolaou an Alzheimer’s Association Research Grant – New to the Field to study the effect of probiotics in patients with mild AD. The 2-year project, which will start this summer, is co-ordinated by the University of Nicosia Research Foundation (UNRF) and will be conducted in collaboration with The Cyprus Institute of Neurology and Genetics (CING).

The Medical School Faculty research team members are Dr Nicoletta Nicolaou (Principal Investigator), Prof Aleksandar Jovanovic (co-Investigator) and Dr Stelios Georgiades. The CING team includes Prof Savvas Papacostas (co-Investigator), Dr Ioanna Kousiappa (co-Investigator), Dr Andreas Koupparis (Head of Neurobiology Department), Dr Stavros Bashiardes, Dr Andreas Hajisavvas, Dr George Loucaides and Prof Michalis Panagiotidis (Head of Cancer Genetics, Therapeutics & Ultrastructural Pathology Department, CING). The project will also be supported by Dr Yiolanda Christou (Acropoleos Medical Center), and a Postdoctoral Researcher.

Recent research suggests that the microorganisms living in our gut (microbiome) may play an important role in the cause and development of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), which is characterized by progressive deterioration of cognitive functioning observed mainly in older individuals beyond what is expected from normal ageing. Changes in our microbiome could lead to inflammation in the gut, which in turn starts the process of inflammation in the brain, made possible by brain-gut communication pathways. Thus, it may be possible to halt or improve AD symptoms by re-establishing a healthy microbiome, the composition of which can be altered via oral administration of nutritional supplements that contain living good bacteria (probiotics). Our main objective in this project is to investigate whether administration of probiotics to patients with mild AD reduces neuroinflammation, improves cognitive functioning and modifies neurophysiological measures, compared to a patient group that receives placebo (no active probiotics). We hypothesize that, following probiotic administration, we will see a reduction in specific blood inflammatory markers, which will correlate with positive changes in neurophysiological activity and cognitive test scores, in the probiotics but not the placebo group. We will also study the microbiome composition of the participants to identify whether positive changes are related to specific microbiome profiles.

The project proposes an affordable and safe means of improving cognitive functioning, which is important and timely considering that the financial burden of the disease in the US alone is estimated to reach $1.1 trillion by 2050 (Alzheimer’s Association 2021 Facts and Figures report). According to the WHO, the current worldwide estimate of people suffering from neurodegenerative disorders is approximately 50 million, to which 10 million new cases are added annually, and with the total number of people with dementia projected to reach 152 million in 2050. This research will open the way for personalized, cheap and accessible nutritional interventions for improved cognitive health.