Scientistsand doctors from around the world have always considered bloodsucking hookworms to be parasites that should be eliminated. That is probably because a hookworm infection can cause extreme stomach cramps, diarrhea, nausea, and more. But one recent research suggests that these parasites may actually be useful and help prevent autoimmune diseases. As reported by scientists, a protein secreted by these worms has been isolated and precisely that protein could be the reason for their healing powers.
A few studies from the last few years have in fact discovered a link between the decrease of these parasitic infections and the increase of autoimmune diseases in the developing countries, in addition to the improvements in public sanitation– a phenomenon called the “health hypothesis.”Scientists have been studying if re-infecting people with specific hookworms could help treat their autoimmune conditions. At the moment, phase II and phase III clinical trials are in progress and are showing success in celiac and inflammatory bowel diseases involunteers who agreed to have live hookworms put in their guts. The results from this week show that if scientists manage to harness the particular protein in hookworms that is responsible for the healing powers, then maybe people won’t need to ingest the whole hookworm, as explained by Severine Navarro, the lead study author and an immunologist at James Cook University.
How can a hookworm protein help the treatment of asthma?
When an allergic reaction happens, the immune cells are actually trying to remove the irritating particles i.e. the allergens to go overboard. This is the reason for the inflammation, as well the contraction of smooth muscles, which makes people wheeze and cough. However, in the case of asthma, this response is built in and may happen even when the irritating particles are not present, as Navarro explains. Hookworms secrete the anti-inflammatory protein 2, or AIP-2, which re-wires the immune reaction from pro-inflammatory to anti-inflammatory.
The scientists made a “soup” of AIP-2 and injected it in mice. The results showed that the protein “almost entirely reversed”the symptoms of asthma. The number of inflammation-causing enzymes reduced and the breathing as well as the function of the lungsof the mice improved.
The scientists also discovered that AIP-2 changed the composition of the immune cells and prevented the inflammation in the human cells. The results were published in the journal Science Translational Medication.
Navarro warns that not all of the parasites may show these benefits, some of them may still be harmful to human health, but the results are promising that one day the hookworm protein could be developed into a pill to help people treat asthma and allergic reactions. Navarro’s team is in fact currently searching for a company to start performing medical trials.