Worms Could Be The Weapon In The Fight Against Diabetes
Parasitic worms (helminths) could help fight autoimmune diseases such as lupus, type 1 diabetes (TID), rheumatoid arthritis, and crohn’s disease. Worms are small multicellular organisms that reside in human intestines.
Rutgers immunologist William Gause published an article in Nature Reviews Immunology reporting that the presence of the worms through centuries of human evolution has led to humans developing an immune response known as type 2 immunity.
This immune response includes immune regulator pathways that control harmful inflammatory responses that can contribute to various autoimmune diseases.
How can Parasitic Worms help Prevent Autoimmune Diseases?
According to the researchers, the immune response seems to have developed as a way for the body to rapidly heal wounds caused by the parasites. Components of type 2 immunity may be the future weapon for enhancing the wound healing process. This response also triggers vital regulatory networks that prevent harmful immune responses and inflammation that tend to worsen tissue injury.
The researchers now want to find a way to harness the components of type 2 immunity in order to target the control of inflammation that contributes to autoimmune diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease and diabetes.
Gause says that the harmful inflammation responses also contribute to other diseases such as metabolic disorders and cardiovascular disease. Inflammation has also been linked to fibrosis and allergic reactions that may be caused by titanium shavings flaking away from artificial joints and settling in the body.
Therefore, finding a new way to stimulate the regulatory components of type 2 immunity may provide a new set of tools to prevent and control harmful inflammatory responses associated with different diseases.
The Hygiene Hypothesis
According to the study by Gause and his colleagues, helminth byproducts or even live helminthes may be introduced into the patient’s body on a short-term basis in order to train weak or compromised immune systems. According to a study conducted by Gause and his colleagues in 2012, the introduction of parasitic helminthes in mice for 2 weeks stimulated their immune systems to produce signaling molecules or cytokines which gave them protection against T1D (Type 1 Diabetes).
These findings mirror human experience especially in developing world where worm (helminth) infection is quite common but the incidence if type 1 diabetes and other autoimmune diseases is extremely low.
This means that the low incidence of helminth infection in industrialized nations may compromise the development of vital regulatory networks that are responsible for controlling harmful inflammation.
According to Gause, the end result of this process is increased incidence of a wide variety of diseases associated with harmful inflammatory responses.
Therefore, if we find a controlled and effective way to tap the benefits that worms seem to provide to the immune system, it’s possible that we wouldn’t have to endure the tradeoff between inflammatory diseases and clean living.
World-first Clinical Trial to Cure Diabetes with Hookworms
This word-first clinical trial will be conducted in Cairns and it aims to combat type 2 diabetes by infecting young overweight women with parasitic worms.
Researches from James Cook University are recruiting young female volunteers for this new research project in which hookworms will be used as possible therapy to improve the overall health for people at risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes. This comes after research in mice found that infecting the animals with helminth can protect them against diabetes by stimulating the immune system to release anti-inflammatory molecules.
The 2-year study will be carried out by scientists from the Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and JCU’s Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine. The study aims to examine the effect of hookworm infestation on young women at risk of diabetes in an attempt to replicate similar results in humans.
The researchers will inoculate young overweight women (aged 18 to 44) with hookworm larva and monitor their health through regular medical assessments.
According to Dr. Paul Giacomin, the worms are masters of controlling inflammation. He believes that this clinical trial is critical especially for determining whether researchers should start studying the active molecules that helminth release into the body to help control metabolism and whether these molecules can be used as a drug for preventing metabolic diseases such as diabetes.
The researchers also said that type 2 diabetes and obesity are increasing at an alarming rate in Australia’s population hence leading to disability and death from infections, kidney failure and heart disease.