Parasitic hookworms could provide an unlikely but revolutionary treatment for asthma, according to scientists.
Yes, you read that right.
Researchers in Australia have identified a key protein secreted by the little critters which suppresses the respiratory disease in mice.
And it could help human asthmatics too.
Tests on sufferers’ cells indicate the protein is actually a promising candidate as a treatment for a range of allergies.
So how does it work?
Let’s start with the hygiene hypothesis: the idea that modern life is so free of dirt and grime that our immune system starts malfunctioning, leading to allergies.
Well, parasites can address the imbalance. JCU immunologist Dr Severine Navarro explains:
“Although IBD and asthma are very different conditions, what they have in common is a defect in the regulation of the immune system, which results in overwhelming inflammatory processes.
“To survive and remain undetected in the human gut, parasitic worms regulate their human host’s immune response. We aim to use that to control the inappropriate inflammation that characterizes autoimmune diseases and allergy.”
The scientists revealed that they started off by infecting some “very committed trial participants” with actual hookworms.
Fortunately, the team has since established that the protective properties of the hookworms lie in their saliva, and no longer need to infect patients.
“In the asthma study, we used a recombinant form of AIP-2, which is to say we’re now able to reproduce it in large quantities. We treated the mice with it by injection and also intranasal,” said Professor Loukas, head of JCU’s Centre for Biodiscovery and Molecular Development of Theraputics.
“This is an exciting development for us, because it means we’re another step closer to being able to put a pill-based treatment into clinical trials, not just for asthma but also for other inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.”