Researchers from the University of Ottawa in Canada are investigating the link between Parkinson’s, Crohn’s disease, and leprosy, since they believe the three diseases share a genetic link, the LRRK2 gene, which is thought to be a common bond. The university’s Brain and Mind Research Institute was awarded a five-year $2.5 million grant by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to develop the study.
People who carry the LRRK2 gene are more predisposed to develop Parkinson’s, and the researchers recently discovered that mutations on the same gene can cause either leprosy or Crohn’s disease. Despite the fact that the three diseases present different symptoms and are not part of the same disease family, Ottawa scientists believe that may be a genetic bond between the diseases.
Dr. David Park, one of the lead researchers, along with Dr. Michael Schlossmacher, explained to Lucy Scholey from Metro News Canada that the 20,000 genes in the human body all act in complex ways. “In this case, (LRRK2) might actually act in a common mechanism, which is the immune function regulation. The immune system is important in multiple disease states.”
During the five-year project, researchers will investigate the common mechanisms of the diseases. They also expect to identify the way in which gene mutations affect LRRK2. “One disease accelerates how it may react in other diseases, so knowing how it may react in Crohn’s can really inform us and provide us additional clues as to how it may be reacting in Parkinson’s,” Park said. “It may be that they act in completely different ways in Crohn’s versus Parkinson’s, but we don’t think that that’s necessarily the case, that there’s probably some common elements that’s important in all three disease types.”
Crohn’s disease is one of the most common inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), which may affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract and is caused by a combination of environmental, immune, and bacterial factors in genetically susceptible individuals. The symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever, and weight loss.