Turning to parasites as potential disease fighters

September 9, 2013, Rutgers University
The intestinal tracts of many people in the developing world are home to tiny parasites that may point the way toward new treatments for diseases such as Type 1 diabetes. Credit: Shutterstock

(Medical Xpress)—There is a new weapon in the fight against autoimmune diseases such as Type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn's disease and lupus, the common trait of which is an immune system that attacks its own organs and tissues.

William Gause, an immunologist at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, is among those leading the charge against these diseases by studying how the human body reacts to worms. The worms Gause studies, or helminths as biologists call them, are small parasites that live in human intestines, especially in the developing world.

According to an article in Nature Reviews Immunology by Gause and colleagues from the National Institutes of Health and the University of Edinburgh, the worms' presence through millennia of human evolution likely has led to an immune response called type 2 immunity. This includes immune regulatory pathways that help control the inflammation that can contribute to .

The immune reaction, the researchers say, appears to have developed as a way to rapidly repair wounds caused by these invaders as they move through the body. In fact, components of the type 2 immune response may someday be used to enhance the wound healing process. Additionally, this response triggers regulatory networks that block harmful immune responses, or inflammation, that otherwise would exacerbate the tissue injury.

"What we would like to do now is harness components of the type 2 immune response to target the control of harmful inflammation that can lead to autoimmune diseases like diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease," Gause says. He adds that also have been linked to other diseases, including cardiovascular disease and metabolic disorders, and even to allergic reactions and fibrosis that may result when titanium shavings that flake away from artificial joints settle in the body. "Finding new ways to stimulate these regulatory components of the type 2 may provide us with a new set of tools to target the control of harmful inflammatory responses now associated with this wide array of different diseases."

For now, live helminths or helminth byproducts may be introduced into the body on a short-term basis to train compromised immune systems. A 2012 study by a Gause-led team found that the introduction of helminths for two weeks caused the immune systems of mice to produce cytokines, or signaling molecules, which gave them lasting protection against Type 1 diabetes.

That finding mirrors human experience in the developing world where helminth infection is endemic, but the incidence of autoimmune diseases such as Type 1 diabetes is extremely low.

"There is a growing body of evidence to support the hygiene hypothesis, which suggests that decreased exposure to microbes and helminths in industrialized countries may impair the development of immune regulatory networks that would otherwise control harmful inflammatory responses," Gause says.

The end result of that process, according to Gause, is increased incidence of a variety of diseases linked to harmful inflammation. "If we find a controlled way to apply the benefit that helminths appear to provide to the workings of the immune system, it is conceivable that we as a society would no longer need to endure the apparent tradeoff between clean living conditions and inflammatory diseases."

Explore further: Scientists discover new mechanism regulating the immune response

Related Stories

Scientists discover new mechanism regulating the immune response

June 28, 2013
Scientists at an Academy of Finland Centre of Excellence have discovered a new mechanism regulating the immune response that can leave a person susceptible to autoimmune diseases.

Short-term intestinal parasite infection triggers specific cytokines that can prevent the development of type 1 diabetes

July 19, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- Short-term infection with intestinal worms may provide long-term protection against type I diabetes (TID), suggests a study conducted by William Gause, PhD, and colleagues at the University of Medicine ...

Scientists find link between allergic and autoimmune diseases in mouse study

June 4, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—Scientists at the National Institutes of Health, and their colleagues, have discovered that a gene called BACH2 may play a central role in the development of diverse allergic and autoimmune diseases, such ...

Body's 'safety procedure' could explain autoimmune disease

September 5, 2013
Monash University researchers have found an important safety mechanism in the immune system that may malfunction in people with autoimmune diseases, such as Multiple Sclerosis, potentially paving the way for innovative treatments.

Scientists discover kill-switch controls immune-suppressing cells

July 14, 2013
Scientists have uncovered the mechanism that controls whether cells that are able to suppress immune responses live or die.

Researchers identify new functions for autoimmune disease 'risk' gene

July 19, 2013
Researchers at the University of Minnesota have identified infection-fighting and inflammation-suppressing functions for a gene associated with human autoimmune disease.

Recommended for you

Novel genomic tools provide new insight into human immune system

January 19, 2018
When the body is under attack from pathogens, the immune system marshals a diverse collection of immune cells to work together in a tightly orchestrated process and defend the host against the intruders. For many decades, ...

Genomics reveals key macrophages' involvement in systemic sclerosis

January 18, 2018
A new international study has made an important discovery about the key role of macrophages, a type of immune cell, in systemic sclerosis (SSc), a chronic autoimmune disease which currently has no cure.

First vaccine developed against grass pollen allergy

January 18, 2018
Around 400 million people worldwide suffer in some form or other from a grass pollen allergy (rhinitis), with the usual symptoms of runny nose, cough and severe breathing problems. In collaboration with the Viennese firm ...

Researchers discover key driver of atopic dermatitis

January 17, 2018
Severe eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a chronic inflammatory skin condition that is driven by an allergic reaction. In their latest study, researchers at La Jolla Institute reveal an important player that promotes ...

Who might benefit from immunotherapy? New study suggests possible marker

January 16, 2018
While immunotherapy has made a big impact on cancer treatment, the fact remains that only about a quarter of patients respond to these treatments.

Researchers identify new way to unmask melanoma cells to the immune system

January 16, 2018
system, which enables these deadly skin cancers to grow and spread.

0 comments

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.