Can worms help in the fight against auto-immune diseases?
According to a recently published article in Nature Reviews Immunology entitled: 'Type 2 immunity and wound healing: evolutionary refinement of adaptive immunity by helminths' there is growing support for the use of controlled exposure to the parasitic worms, or helminths, as a means to train a compromised immune system. It is believed that the presence of these worms throughout human evolution has led to an immune response called type 2 immunity. This includes activation of regulatory pathways that help control inflammation which can contribute to autoimmune diseases like diabetes. Since individuals in developing countries are still exposed to these worms this may explain the low prevalence of auto-immune diseases in these countries.
Now, the key is to be able to harness the type 2 immune response and reap the benefits it has for auto-immune diseases. Initial studies in mice have shown that introduction of live worms or worm byproducts into the animals for 2 weeks led to cytokine production and long term protection from Type 1 diabetes. If similar results can be achieved in humans we will no longer have to endure the apparent trade off between cleanliness and auto-immune diseases.
Some information for the blog post was obtained from ScienceDaily