PhD student Anastazja Gorecki is thrilled to be finally arriving in Baltimore, Maryland to commence her Fulbright Scholarship. This prestigious scholarship, funded by the Kinghorn Foundation, was announced in January 2021. 

Anastazja, who is undertaking her PhD via The University of Western Australia and the Perron Institute, will be based at Johns Hopkins University in the School of Medicine’s Gastroenterology Department.  

“My research currently focuses on how gut inflammation influences Parkinson’s disease, but I have a wider interest in preventative medicine and the environment,” Anastazja said.  

“Rates of ‘non-communicable’ disorders are increasing, ranging from diabetes and asthma to neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s.  

“I believe that the more we know about how our diets and the gut influence long-term health, the better equipped we are to make good individual health decisions.”  

Anastazja recently published a review paper in the journal Translational Neurodegeneration, exploring the role of alpha-synuclein (traditionally considered a neuronal protein) in gut cells and the relationship with inflammation and protein aggregation in Parkinson’s.   

“Although the gut has evolved in various ways to maintain homeostasis, many aspects of a modern lifestyle can harm the gut microbiome, the gut barrier and gut-brain signalling,” she said. 

“Specifically, a plethora of research indicates that excessive activation of toll-like receptors in the gut (one of the body’s defences against pathogenic microbes) may be central to early gut dysfunction in Parkinson’s.” 

In her current work, Anastazja is collaborating with Associate Professor Kathy Fuller at UWA and Dr Chidozie Anyaegbu from the Neurotrauma Research group at Curtin University and the Perron Institute, using imaging flow cytometry (analysing 1000s of cells) to characterise alpha-synuclein in enteroendocrine cells, an important population in the gut. 

“I’m looking forward to learning new skills from my Johns Hopkins supervisor Associate Professor Subhash Kulkarni and his team. Using human gut cells, we’ll investigate if different microbial molecules trigger aggregation of alpha-synuclein,” she said.  

“It’s such a growing field and I hope great discoveries continue to be made. Knowing more about the interaction between the gut and protein aggregation could enable earlier diagnosis of diseases like Parkinson’s, as well as offer a range of treatment options to slow disease processes and improve quality of life.”