Okay, I realize this is not a comparative physiology topic. But after reading this article, I just had to share it.
A new study published in American Journal of Physiology – Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology presented data suggesting that parasitic worms may help treat or even prevent inflammatory bowl disease (IBD) in children.
IBD is a condition characterized by inflammation in the gut that can lead to symptoms such as diarrhea and loss of appetite. Children with IBD may also develop malnutrition if nutrient absorption is reduced, which can ultimately lead to delayed development or even stunted growth.
In the newly published study, researchers discovered that 3-week old mice that had been infected with parasitic tapeworms (H. diminuta) had reduced severity of symptoms when exposed to substances that can cause IBD. In addition, giving tapeworm extract to previously infected mice promoted the production of anti-inflammatory proteins that again reduced symptoms of IBD. The researchers speculate that parasitic infections may train the immune system to recognize and fight off foreign invaders, a phenomenon called ‘immunological memory’.
The researchers went on to describe how they “provide some of the first proof-of-concept data in support of the potential of developing helminth therapy to prevent or treat inflammatory disease in children and [we show] that a history of infection opens the possibility of using immunological memory against helminths to treat inflammation.”
T Arai, F Lopes, A Shute, A Wang, DM McKay. Young mice expel the tapeworm Hymenolepis diminuta and are protected from colitis by triggering a memory response with worm antigen. American Journal of Physiology – Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology. [In Press]
Press Release from the American Physiological Society