Educating Patients: Communicating the Gut-Brain Connection in Parkinson's Disease Using Multimedia
Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a type of synucleinopathy that is characterized by abnormal accumulation of α-synuclein (α-syn) aggregates in neurons (Challis et al.2020). The misfolded α-syn triggers self-aggregation into neurotoxic amyloid fibrils that can be transmitted from cell to cell, ultimately causing neurodegeneration (Kim et al. 2019). Mounting evidence suggests that for a majority of PD patients, this process can originate in the gut and ascend to the brain via the vagus nerve (Kim et al. 2019). Once in the brain, α-syn pathology propagates to reach the midbrain leading to motor dysfunction.
Since PD is mostly known as a motor disorder, its non-motor symptoms often go undetected. By the time patients begin exhibiting motor symptoms, the disease is usually advanced to the extent that only symptoms can be treated (Dawson et al. 2019). Recent studies suggest that non-motor symptoms, particularly those associated with gastrointestinal (GI) dysfunction may appear as many as 20 years prior to neurological symptoms (Challis et al. 2020). It is important for the public, especially those with chronic GI complications to understand how prolonged GI symptoms may indicate early-stage PD.
However, two factors currently hinder education in this area: (i) scientific research papers are difficult to understand particularly for readers without ascientific background; and (ii) current visual resources for this topic are limited to schematic, often confusing diagrams and inaccurate anatomical and molecular images. In particular, spatial relationships between the gut and the brain are difficult to depict in 2D. And, no effective didactic 3D visualizations exist to address this important public health topic.
I propose an interactive platform of (i) a foundational 2D teaching module onthe scientific background and pathogenesis of PD, and (ii) a narrative 3D animationhighlighting recent studies of the gut-brain connection in PD. Learners will navigate at their own pace through the introductory learning module prior to viewing themore complex material.
Susie E. Yun, 2021