Could Parasitic Worms Offer Hope for Better Asthma Control?

I know what you're thinking... parasitic worms -- yuck. I actually first heard about this several years ago. It seems that research into whether parasitic worms could prove beneficial for asthma sufferers has continued since I read about earlier studies. The most recent study from the United Kingdom was published in an October 2017 issue of the journal Immunity.

The type of worm in question is a kind of roundworm that is an intestinal parasite. These worms secrete a protein that stops allergic reactions in their tracks. THe protein is H. polygyrus Alarmin Release Inhibitor (or HpARI for short). That's quite a mouthful, isn't it? It has been tested in mice and in some human cells and may offer hope for prevention or a cure for allergic asthma in the future.

Allergic Asthma Facts

Most, although not all, asthma is linked to allergies. In other words, the airway inflammation and symptoms associated with asthma are triggered by allergic reactions. Symptoms typical of asthma include:

  • Chest tightness
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing

Typically, people who are allergic have a sensitivity to one or more of the following triggers:

  • Dust mites
  • Tree, grass & weed pollen
  • Mold
  • Pet dander
  • Insect droppings

Other asthma triggers may include smoke, strong odors, air pollution, cold air and exercise.

Details of the Study

This current study was led by researcher Dr. Henry McSorley, of the Medical Research Council Centre for Inflammation Research at the University of Edinburgh. Dr. McSorley and his colleagues referred to past research that found that an intestinal parasite called Heligmosomoides polygyrus (HES for short), which lives in mice, could suppress allergic responses.

Past research had also found that HES interfered with a substance called interleukin-33 (IL-33 for short). IL-33 is made by the white blood cells and has a critical role in triggering the immune system responses associated with asthma and allergies.

In Dr. McSorley's study, they identified HpARI as the exact protein that interferes with IL-33. This interference occurs in both mouse and human cells. However, the reaction does appear to be stronger in mice.

What It Means

If you're wondering if you're going to need to ingest parasitic worms, the good news is that's unlikely! There is still much more research needed to prove the relationship between HpARI, IL-33 and the allergic sensitivity response. Researchers are only beginning to understand the importance of IL-33 in the functioning of the body.

When more is known, what is most likely to happen is that the protein HpARI, not the roundworms, will be used in the treatment of allergic asthma. In fact, Dr. McSorley and his colleagues have expressed the hope that within the next 5 to 10 years, their research is going to lead to the development of new drugs. These drugs would be used to reduce and  prevent allergic asthma and other similar diseases.

I look forward to watching this field of science develop.

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