Worm discovery could help 1 billion people worldwide

May 5, 2011
This is the mouse whipworm Trichuris muris. Credit: R. Grencis

Scientists have discovered why some people may be protected from harmful parasitic worms naturally while others cannot in what could lead to new therapies for up to one billion people worldwide.

Parasitic worms are a major cause of mortality and morbidity affecting up to a billion people, particularly in the Third World, as well as domestic pets and across the globe.

Now, University of Manchester researchers have, for the first time, identified a key component of mucus found in the guts of humans and animals that is toxic to worms.

"These live in the gut, which is protected by a thick layer of mucus," explained Dr David Thornton, from the University's Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell Matrix Research. "The mucus barrier is not just , but a complex mixture of salts, water and large 'sugar-coated' proteins called mucins that give mucus its gel–like properties.

"In order to be able to study these debilitating worm diseases, we have been using a mouse model in which we try to cure mice of the whipworm Trichuris muris. This worm is closely related to the human equivalent, Trichuris trichiura.

"We previously found that mice that were able to expel this whipworm from the gut made more mucus. Importantly, the mucus from these mice contained the mucin, Muc5ac. This mucin is rarely present in the gut, but when it is, it alters the physical properties of the mucus gel."

Co-lead on the study, Professor Richard Grencis, from the Faculty of Life Sciences, continued: "For this new research, we asked how important Muc5ac is during worm infection by using mice lacking the gene for Muc5ac. We found that genetically incapable of producing Muc5ac were unable to expel the worms, despite having a strong immune response against these parasites. This resulted in long-term infections.

"Furthermore, we discovered the reason for the importance of Muc5ac is that it is 'toxic' for the worms and damages their health."

The study, published in the , found that Muc5ac is also essential for the efficient expulsion from the gut of other types of worm that cause problems in humans. These include the hookworm, and the spiral threadworm. Together, these worms cause mortality and morbidity in up to one billion people across the globe.

Dr Sumaira Hasnain, the lead experimentalist on the project, added: "For the first time, we have discovered that a single component of the barrier, the Muc5ac mucin, is essential for worm expulsion. Our research may help to identify who is and who isn't susceptible to parasitic worms, and it may eventually lead to new treatments for people with chronic worm infections."

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Synthetic 3D-printed material helps bones regrow

September 28, 2016

A cheap and easy to make synthetic bone material has been shown to stimulate new bone growth when implanted in the spines of rats and a monkey's skull, researchers said Wednesday.

Epigenetic clock predicts life expectancy

September 28, 2016

UCLA geneticist Steve Horvath led a team of 65 scientists in seven countries to record age-related changes to human DNA, calculate biological age and estimate a person's lifespan. A higher biological age—regardless of chronological ...

Engineered blood vessels grow in lambs

September 27, 2016

In a hopeful development for children born with congenital heart defects, scientists said Tuesday they had built artificial blood vessels which grew unaided when implanted into lambs, right into adulthood.

Fighting the aging process at a cellular level

September 22, 2016

It was about 400 BC when Hippocrates astutely observed that gluttony and early death seemed to go hand in hand. Too much food appeared to 'extinguish' life in much the same way as putting too much wood on a fire smothers ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

hush1
5 / 5 (2) May 05, 2011
Highest rating for the article.
The culmination of this research through new treatments implemented by this team of researchers is the goal.

The greatest of human medical endeavors, reached, needs no rating. Universal accepted recognition is the greatest rating. Free treatment, for the good of all humankind, the highest and greatest human gesture to reflect any researchers' reached goals.

The gesture reflects life, not a definition of altruism.
The only gesture befitting of a researcher's success.

Congratulations.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.