A parasitic worm may hold the key to treating some major lung and skin diseases, a team of Irish-based scientists revealed today.
Researchers at Trinity College Dublin have discovered 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 strong 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,” Dr Padraic Fallon, School of Biochemistry and Immunology, TCD, who led the project, said.
On the findings published in the latest edition of a leading international biomedical publication, The Journal of Experimental Medicine, he said: “There is a clear potential to build new treatments for major disease of man using this approach. In effect I see the worm as the ‘drug cabinet’ of the future.”
Dr Fallon and his co-author Dr Antonio Alcami, University of Cambridge, UK were both funded by the UK biomedical research charity, The Wellcome Trust, in the project.
The team said the findings could result in a new approach to treating patients suffering from a range of inflammatory or autoimmune diseases.
The schistosome worms infect over 250 million people in tropical countries, and evidence has shown the worms may protect humans from other diseases like 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 – as some schistosome infected patients develop pathology and may die from the disease.
Dr Fallon’s group is identifying what part of the worm can be used to treat such disease as allergies and inflammatory bowel disease.
He said: “Our strategy is to develop new drugs for human diseases by exploiting mechanisms and molecules that worms have developed over millions of years of co-evolution with man.”
Prof Ian Robertson, Dean of Research at the college, said the discovery had illustrated the college’s growing international excellence in the research area of immunology-infection and disease treatments.