November 24, 2005

Scientists Pin Hopes on Worm Eggs to Fight Diseases

DUBLIN -- Scientists in Ireland have discovered that eggs from a parasitic worm may hold the key to treating inflammatory conditions such as lung diseases and the skin complaint psoriasis.

Researchers at Trinity College Dublin (TCD) said on Thursday they had found that the worm, schistosoma mansoni, which infects over 250 million people in tropical countries, releases a molecule with strong anti-inflammatory qualities.

Padraic Fallon of TCD's School of Biochemistry and Immunology said the discovery had "clear potential" for developing treatments for inflammatory or autoimmune diseases.

"This study is particularly exciting as it harnesses how the worm modifies immunity in our bodies to stimulate protection from undesirable inflammation," he said. "In effect, I see the worm as a 'drug cabinet' of the future."

Research carried out by Fallon and his team has shown that experimental infections with schistosomes could prevent severe allergic reactions and asthma-like lung inflammation.

However, intentionally infecting people with the worm risks side-effects that can include death, so Fallon's team is trying to identify which part of the worm can be used safely.

"Our strategy is to develop new drugs for human diseases by exploiting mechanisms and molecules that worms have developed over millions of years of co-evolution with man," he said.

Results of the study, which was funded by the UK biomedical research charity, the Wellcome Trust, are published in the latest edition of The Journal of Experimental Medicine.