Could worms provide relief for autoimmune disorders?
In 1976 researcher J. A. Taunton infected himself with parasitic hookworms (a helminth), and found that his allergy symptoms disappeared as long as he was infeted1. This finding was resoundingly ignored for the following 20 years. However, resurgence in Helminth therapy is underway. A number of academic research groups and companies alike are investigating the potential of parasitic hookworms as allergy therapy. Our immune systems evolved a specific strategy to handle parasitic worm infections that relies on a specific subset of white blood cells (T lymphocytes), that is called the Th2 response. The prevailing hypothesis states that in the absence of any type of parasitic infection (as generally occurs in modern western society), the Th2 response starts attacking innocuous things such as pollen, food particles etc., which ultimately leads to health problems including allergies, asthma and eczema.
Researchers at Monash University have recently identified a molecule from hookworms that may lead to an effective autoimmune therapy without having to resort to infecting people with parasites2.
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- Turton, J.A. (1976) IgE, parasites, and allergy. The Lancet ii:686.
- Chhabra, S. et al., (2014) Kv1.3 channel-blocking immunomodulatory peptides from parasitic worms: implications for autoimmune diseases. FASEB J. June 2. pii: fj.14-251967.