14 Nov Why this parasitic worm could hold the key to curing asthma.
Worms could hold the key to curing asthma after scientists discovered they secrete a protein which dampens down the immune system and prevents the body over-reacting to allergens. The secretion from hookworms was found to prevent inflammation in human cells and suppress asthma completely in mice.
Hookworms are tiny parasites which are able to survive in the body by sending out chemicals to stifle the immune system. Scientists have already shown that conditions like Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) can be suppressed by ingesting parasites, but now scientists have isolated the protein responsible, called AIP-2.
Professor Alex Loukas from James Cook University has described the finding as an exciting development which brings scientists a step closer to putting a pill-based treatment into clinical trials. Professor Loukas has also stated this therapy will not only benefit asthma sufferers but also for other inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.
In their initial work Professor Loukas and team infected trial participants with actual hookworms and established the protective properties lie in the oral secretions. More recently, the team has isolated AIP-2 from the secretion mixture and manufactured a variant form of the protein in large quantities.
The protein, AIP-2, was tested on human cells from people allergic to dust mites, which are known to trigger asthma. It was found to prevent inflammation and even change pro-inflammatory immune cells into anti-inflammatory cells, which can protect the whole body.
The use of hookworm derived protein as a suppression agent in allergic asthma is an interesting area of research in considering allergic disease modulation and paves the way for further research in this area.