Worms may become ‘drug cabinet’ of the future – Trinity Scientists Discover New Drug for Inflammatory Disorders

Posted on: 21 November 2005

Researchers have discovered that eggs from a parasitic worm may hold the key to treating inflammatory conditions such as lung diseases and psoriasis. 

Scientists based at Trinity College Dublin have discovered that the worm, Schistosoma mansoni, which infects humans, releases a molecule with strong anti-inflammatory qualities, which are particularly effective in battling against acute inflammations.  This could bring about a new approach in treating patients suffering from a range of inflammatory or autoimmune diseases.  These findings are reported in today’s edition of the leading international biomedical journal, The Journal of Experimental Medicine. 

Dr Padraic Fallon, School of Biochemistry and Immunology, TCD who led the Wellcome Trust research project, said: “This study is particularly exciting as it harnesses how the worm modifies immunity in our bodies to stimulate protection from undesirable inflammation.  There is a clear potential to build new treatments for major disease of man using this approach.  In effect I see the worm as the “drug cabinet” of the future”.

Schistosome worms infect over 250 million people in tropical countries.  There is evidence that infection with schistosomes may protect humans from other disease, such as allergies.  Dr Fallon’s research group has already shown that experimental infections with schistosomes can prevent anaphylaxis and asthma-like lung inflammation. 

However, as schistosome infected patients develop pathology, and may die from the disease, it is inappropriate to intentionally infect people with the worm due to the risk of side-effects.  Therefore Dr Fallon’s group is identifying what part of the worm can be used to treat such disease as allergies and inflammatory bowel disease.  Dr Fallon stated that, “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.”

Prof. Ian Robertson, Dean of Research at TCD stated that this major discovery illustrates the College’s growing international excellence in the research area of immunology-infection and disease therapeutics.

Dr Fallon and co-author Dr Antonio Alcami, University of Cambridge, UK, and Centro Nacional de Biotecnología, Madrid, Spain, were both funded by the UK biomedical research charity The Wellcome Trust.