Worms inspire new research

George Binning

Worms could hold the key to more effective treatment of arthritis if research being undertaken by the Universities of Glasgow and Strathclyde is successful.

The Arthritis Research Campaign have pledged £213,700 to the project over the course of three years, providing the necessary funding to launch and finance the research.

The team hope to synthesise drugs derived from an anti-inflammatory substance named ES-62 secreted by the parasitic filarial nematode worm.

This development in medical science will eventually be applied to the treatment of a range of auto-immune, inflammatory conditions: rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and asthma for example.

The nematode worm is known to make its home in the bloodstreams of tens of millions of people in the tropics. Although the presence of these worms can cause disorders such as elephantiasis; the ES-62 they emit into the bloodstream prevents the onset of such diseases.

Professor Margaret Harnett, team leader and Professor of Immune Signalling at the University of Glasgow, explained how the mutual relationship of man and worm would benefit science.

She said: “In our study, we will exploit a mechanism optimised by human/parasite interactions over millennia to develop anti-inflammatory drugs”
Preliminary research has shown that countries with a high instance of nematode worms also enjoy very low rates of inflammatory bowel disease, type-1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis and other auto-immune diseases.

ES-62 can circulate through the body without weakening the hosts immunity or causing any other side effects. The worm’s production of ES-62 makes its symbiotic relationship with man possible and is the product of thousands of years of evolution.

Professor William Harnett, of the University of Strathclyde, described how this relationship was of particular interest to the study.

He said: “We will be focusing on mechanisms of combating hyper-inflammation that have developed naturally and with apparent acceptance by humans during their co-evolution with parasites.”

Professor Iain McInnes, Professor of Experimental Medicine at the University of Glasgow, explained that the properties of the chemical ES-62 also facilitated the study of other areas of Infection and Inflammation.

“ES-62 appears to act like a ‘thermostat’ to effectively turn down disease-causing inflammation whilst leaving essential defence mechanisms intact to fight infection and cancer, this property also makes ES-62 a unique tool for scientists to identifying how such disease-causing inflammation occurs.”


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