'Worm pill' could ease autoimmune disease symptoms

August 11, 2014
The peptide from parasitic worms called AcK1 was shown to dampen the immune system

(Medical Xpress)—Experts believe a molecule in parasitic worms could help explain why worm infections can effectively treat a range of autoimmune diseases, including multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

The Monash University study, published in the FASEB Journal, successfully identified peptides from that suppress the body's immune response. Researchers believe this could pave the way for a new drug containing the peptide to provide relief from the symptoms of .

Affecting as many as one in 20 Australians, autoimmune diseases occur when a person's immune system has an abnormal response against its own cells, tissues or even entire organs, resulting in inflammation and damage.

Lead researcher Professor Ray Norton from Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences (MIPS) said experts around the world have yet to fully understand the causes of autoimmune diseases, which have risen significantly in parts of the world.

"There are more than eighty autoimmune diseases, ranging in severity from mild to life threatening in some cases. While some affect mainly one area or organ, others can affect many parts of the body," he said.

"Many people believe there's a link between the rise in autoimmune diseases and an increased focus on cleanliness in western societies, because the immune system is no longer exposed to the broad range of infections that previous generations had to deal with.

"There could be some truth to this because worm infection is virtually unheard of in developed countries, yet the incidence of autoimmune diseases is high. But in developing countries the opposite is true," Professor Norton said

The new line of research offers an alternative to helminthic therapy, where people deliberately infect themselves with parasitic worms, in an attempt to put their autoimmune disease into remission. It's thought that the worms have a calming effect on their host's immune systems in order to ensure their survival.

Rather than using worms, the research team searched for the active components responsible for immunomodulatory effects in parasitic worms. By creating a cDNA library from the anterior secretory glands of the parasitic hookworm Ancylostoma caninium, they identified a peptide called AcK1 that dampens the immune system by inhibiting a potassium channel (Kv1.3).

Researchers found that AcK1 closely resembles ShK, a peptide from a sea anemone, which has been shown to suppress autoimmune diseases and is currently in clinical trials for the treatment of .

Dr Sandeep Chhabra from Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, said the study will help in developing new drugs to treat autoimmune diseases.

"Our research shows that it is possible to identify individual molecules responsible for this beneficial affect," he said.

"The next step will be to see if we can develop this into a pill that could dampen the in people with an autoimmune disease. That's a whole lot cleaner than putting a worm in your body," Dr Chhabra said.

Explore further: Parasitologist espouses using parasitic worms for treatment of autoimmune diseases

Related Stories

Exploring a parasitic tunnel boring machine

June 15, 2014

Researchers have deduced essential biological and genetic information from the genome sequence of the whipworm, an intestinal parasitic worm that infects hundreds of millions of people in developing countries.

Recommended for you

Snapshot turns T cell immunology on its head

October 6, 2015

Challenging a universally accepted, longstanding consensus in the field of immunity requires hard evidence. New research from the Australian Research Council Centre of excellence in advanced Molecular imaging has shown the ...

Four gut bacteria decrease asthma risk in infants

September 30, 2015

New research by scientists at UBC and BC Children's Hospital finds that infants can be protected from getting asthma if they acquire four types of gut bacteria by three months of age. More than 300 families from across Canada ...

Flu infection reveals many paths to immune response

September 28, 2015

A new study of influenza infection in an animal model broadens understanding of how the immune system responds to flu virus, showing that the process is more dynamic than usually described, engaging a broader array of biological ...

Immune cells may help fight against obesity

September 15, 2015

While a healthy lifestyle and "good genes" are known to help prevent obesity, new research published on September 15 in Immunity indicates that certain aspects of the immune system may also play an important role. In the ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Aug 12, 2014
The most important question to be answered: Can it be patented?

Regarding worms: the idea of carrying around these parasites in my gut is disgusting. But I might think the same about lots of the remaining organisms I no doubt carry with me, in my gut and elsewhere.
not rated yet Aug 13, 2014
how could one get in on a clinical trial of this new pill, I have Rheumatoid Arthritis

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.