Parasitic worms – do they hold the secret to treating allergies?

04 October 2013, Asthma, Immune system, Infectious and Parasitic Diseases

On TVNZ ONE News tonight, Professor Graham Le Gros spoke to TVNZ Reporter Renee Graham about his team's latest allergy research. It isn’t for the faint hearted. They hypothesise that in the future we could be turning to parasitic worms and/or their products to treat allergic diseases such as asthma, eczema and food allergy!

Unfortunately the video file of this interview is no longer available from the TVNZ site.

Parasitic worms have evolved to live for a long time in humans. It many ways, humans have also evolved to tolerate parasites, but only up to a certain point.

When it all gets too much, our immune system elicits a response called the Th2 (allergic) immune response to get rid of the parasites. Paradoxically, it is this same Th2 immune response that gives rise to the symptoms of asthma and allergy.

We do not know why the immune systems of allergic individuals respond to house dust mites, pollen or peanuts as though they were parasites. But believe it is due in part to their immune system not receiving the appropriate ‘education’ early on in life.

The parasitic worms do not want the Th2 immune response to be activated, because they do not want to be kicked out of their host, so they have ways of keeping the host immune system in check.

Professor Le Gros hypothesises, that if we can learn how the worms do this, that is how they are able to suppress the allergic immune response, we could do the same to treat asthma and allergy naturally.

It is this question that Professor Le Gros and his team of researchers will use some of their recent Health Research Council of New Zealand funding to address. Initially using immune cells in the laboratory, then moving into animal models, before starting human clinical trials