Call for partners: Gut-brain health effects of prebiotics in older adults with suspected cognitive decline

Due to the greying of society, a triplication of the number of people worldwide suffering from dementia, with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) as the commonest form, is expected by 2050. Emerging evidence points towards a crucial role of intestinal health, with the microbiota composition in the colon receiving more attention. The role of prebiotics/prebiotic supplements in alleviating cognitive and behavioral impairments in older adults with suspected cognitive decline by acting on the overall gut-brain axis, is a topic that surely merits further scrutiny.

The first in its kind

A handful of preclinical studies, some of which in AD mice, have been published only recently, highlighting the potential of one type of prebiotics, namely β-glucans, for improving cognitive deficits and anxiety, thereby measuring profound differences in gut and brain health markers, such as in short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) and neurotransmitter/metabolite content, and, microbiota composition. However, these effects necessitate confirmation in human studies. To the best of our knowledge, no such human studies administering prebiotics in older adults with suspected cognitive decline are currently underway, specifically looking at effects along the gut-brain axis.

This call provides an excellent opportunity to collaborate on this innovative topic in a vulnerable population of elderly, especially since no cure currently exists to treat AD, making prevention strategies in those at risk for conversion to AD even more worthwhile.

From microbiota to gut to brain

Overall, the proposed intervention trial plans to investigate the gut and brain health effects of prebiotics/prebiotic supplements, such as β-glucans, fibers and alike, in older adults with suspected cognitive decline. Primary outcome measures will be the change in cognition scores, in addition to changes in various gut and brain health markers, among which the microbiota composition and -derived SCFA, neurotransmitter and metabolite content, and, parameters related to gut integrity/intestinal permeability and neuroinflammation, analyzed in feces and blood.

Secondary outcome measures will include observable effects on behavior, such as on depression/mood, agitation, sleep/circadian rhythm, and, overall activity, preferably combining e-health monitoring/wearable devices with behavioral assessment scales. Such a trial may provide valuable insights in the applicability options of certain prebiotics related to gut and brain health/disease. Finally, this study also fits perfectly in the mission put forward by the Knowledge and Innovation Agenda from the Dutch Ministry of Health, Wellbeing and Sports, about decreasing the dementia disease burden by 2030.

Invitation to collaborate

The proposal is scheduled to be submitted under the current TKI Call. The budget is estimated between 700k-1M€. TKI is a Dutch governmental program, sponsoring applied research. Aiming for up to 4 partners each annually contributing 20k€ cash and 20k€ in kind. Granted projects receive an additional 50% subsidy funding. The total project duration is three years. This consortium is open for participation from ingredient/food companies (e.g. fiber/prebiotics), in addition to e-health/medical device/technology companies. In return for in-cash and in-kind contributions to the project, partners can specify desired topics for research, and provide direction to the research activities within this call.

Unfortunately, we are not able to reply to solicitations from research institutes or enquiries from students related to this project.