Worm holds key to treating disease

A PARASITIC worm may hold the key to treating some major lung and skin diseases, a team of Irish-based scientists revealed yesterday.

Researchers at Trinity College Dublin (TCD) have discovered that eggs from a parasitic worm, Schistosoma mansoni, may aid in the treatment of inflammatory conditions such as psoriasis.

The worm, which infects humans, releases molecules with anti-inflammatory qualities effective in battling against acute inflammations.

“This study is particularly exciting as it harnesses how the worm modifies immunity in our bodies to stimulate protection from undesirable inflammation,” said Dr Padraic Fallon, School of Biochemistry and Immunology, TCD, who led the project.

On the findings, published in the international biomedical publication The Journal of Experimental Medicine, he said: “Thereis a clear potential to build new treatments for major disease of man using thisapproach. In effect I see the worm as the ‘drug cabinet’ of the future”.

Dr Fallon and co-author Dr Antonio Alcami, University of Cambridge, were funded by British biomedical research charity, The Wellcome Trust.

The team said the findings could result in a new approach to treating a range of inflammatory or auto-immune diseases.

The schistosome worms infect more than 250 million people in tropical countries, and evidence has shown the worms may protect humans from other conditions such as allergies.

The research group led by Dr Fallon has shown experimental infections with schistosomes can prevent anaphylaxis and asthma-like lung inflammation.

But the scientists said it was inappropriate to intentionally infect people with the worm due to the risk of side-effects - some schistosome-infectedpatients develop pathology and may die from the disease.

Dr Fallon’s group is identifying what part of the worm can be used to treat allergies and diseases like inflammatory bowel disease.

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