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MINERVA: the technological project to boost research on the microbiota-gut-brain axis in chronic neurodegenerative disorders


Diego Albani1, Carmen Giordano2*
*Corresponding author
1. Department of Neuroscience, IRCCS – Istituto di Ricerche Farmacologiche Mario Negri, Milan, Italy
2. Department of Chemistry, Materials and Chemical Engineering “Giulio Natta”, Politecnico, Milan, Italy


Chronic neurodegenerative disorders including dementias, as Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and movement disorders, as Parkinson’s disease (PD) are strongly increasing worldwide. Up to now, very little is known about their biochemical mechanism and no effective therapeutic strategies are available to face brain functionality deterioration.

A very intriguing hypothesis actively under investigation is referred as “microbiota-gut-brain axis”. It suggests that human gut microbial community might impact central nervous system functionality through a bidirectional interaction that potentially might play also a key role in neurodegenerative disorders. Here we present a novel technological project, named MINERVA supported by the European Research Council (ERC) Programme, that aims, by using an innovative bioengineering approach, at evaluating microbiota impact on brain functionality. MINERVA goal is to develop a cutting edge technological platform, based on organ on chip microfluidic device, to model the main players of the microbiota-gut-brain axis. The final aim of MINERVA is to investigate the role of microbiota on brain functionality in physiological but also in pathological neurodegenerative conditions in order to improve the knowledge in the field and open the way to potential novel therapeutic microbiota-based approach for neurodegenerative disorders


Alzheimer’s (AD) and Parkinson’s (PD) disease are severe chronic neurodegenerative pathologies. ADfeatures memory loss, followed by behavioral changes and impairment in everyday life. PD is characterized by movement disturbances, but it is not unusual the presence of dementia (1). An extremely interesting hypothesis is that the intestinal microflora (collectively named “microbiota”) is a key player in chronic neurodegeneration. A relation between gut microbiota and brain, referred to as “microbiota-gut-brain axis”, was firstly hypothesized more than 100 years ago by the Russian embryologist Elie Metchnikoff: he surmised that a healthy microbiota could help counteracting aging and that some bacterial strains (what we call today “probiotics”) found in sour milk and yogurt would increase longevity (2). Literature shows that Metchnikoff’s findings have been recently re-evaluated, becoming a new, exciting hypothesis in neuroscience: up to now, the papers on a possible role of gut microbiota on brain or AD/PD increased impressively, going from 8 in 2008 to 842 in September 2017, with 258 articles publishe ...

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