'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: Parasitic worms of pigs could provide new treatments of human diseases

Related Stories

Parasitic worms of pigs could provide new treatments of human diseases

June 16, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—New treatments for inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, diabetes and autism could be on the horizon, after a global University of Melbourne – lead study successfully mapped ...

Biomedical engineer looks at new applications for novel lupus drug

July 24, 2014
Expanding on his work with a new drug that successfully treated lupus in mice, a biomedical engineer at the University of Houston has received a $250,000 grant to expand his research to a new version of the drug in an effort ...

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.

Parasitologist espouses using parasitic worms for treatment of autoimmune diseases

November 8, 2012
(Medical Xpress)—Doctor Joel Weinstock, a parasitologist at Tufts Medical Center in a commentary piece published in the journal Nature, describes work that he and colleagues have been involved in that focuses on studying ...

Scientists develop potential new treatment for autoimmune diseases

May 17, 2013
Scientists at Montana State University have developed a therapeutic that has potential as a biological drug or probiotic food product to combat many of the more than 80 autoimmune disorders that affect some 23.5 million people ...

Recommended for you

Genetic immune deficiency could hold key to severe childhood infections

July 18, 2017
A gene mutation making young children extremely vulnerable to common viruses may represent a new type of immunodeficiency, according to a University of Queensland researcher.

What are the best ways to diagnose and manage asthma?

July 18, 2017
What are the best ways to diagnose and manage asthma in adults? This can be tricky because asthma can stem from several causes and treatment often depends on what is triggering the asthma.

Large multi-ethnic study identifies many new genetic markers for lupus

July 17, 2017
Scientists from an international consortium have identified a large number of new genetic markers that predispose individuals to lupus.

Study finds molecular explanation for struggles of obese asthmatics

July 17, 2017
A large, bouquet-shaped molecule called surfactant protein A, or SP-A, may explain why obese asthma patients have harder-to-treat symptoms than their lean and overweight counterparts, according to a new study led by scientists ...

Team identifies potential cause for lupus

July 14, 2017
Leading rheumatologist and Feinstein Institute for Medical Research Professor Betty Diamond, MD, may have identified a protein as a cause for the adverse reaction of the immune system in patients suffering from lupus. A better ...

Immunosuppression underlies resistance to anti-angiogenic therapy

July 14, 2017
A Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) research team has identified a novel mechanism behind resistance to angiogenesis inhibitors - drugs that fight cancer by suppressing the formation of new blood vessels. In their report ...

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

alfie_null
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.
doxie_nut
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.