College of Medicine & Veterinary Medicine

Worms aid quest for asthma therapies

People with asthma could be helped by a new therapy based on a molecule produced by parasitic worms, research suggests.

Researchers have pinpointed a molecule that dampens their host’s immune response and prevents the allergic reactions that cause asthma attacks.

Experts have known for several years that infections with parasitic worms can protect people from asthma. Until now, little was known about how they do this.

Key molecule

A team of scientists, led by the University of Edinburgh, studied parasites called roundworms, which live in the intestines of people and animals.

By analysing the worms’ secretions, they identified a molecule called HpARI that blocks key signals between cells of the immune system associated with allergic responses.

Therapy hope

Studies with mice found that treatment with HpARI helped to stop allergic reactions similar to those seen in asthma.

By identifying this new protein, we have found a new method of suppressing the allergic responses which cause asthma, and in the future we hope to develop this toward further treatments for allergic disease.

Dr Henry McSorleyMedical Research Council Centre for Inflammation Research, University of Edinburgh

Parasite protection

People who live in countries where parasitic worms are common are less likely to have asthma.

In South East Asia, for example, fewer than 1 in 20 people have a doctor’s diagnosis of asthma compared with 1 in 11 people in the UK.

Allergic disease

Asthma attacks are often triggered by allergies to pollen, pets and house dust mites.

Finding a way to dampen this allergic reaction could stop peoples’ airways from becoming inflamed and prevent a potentially life-threatening asthma attack.

This is exciting early research that could pave the way for the development of new treatments for asthma.

Dr Samantha WalkerDirector of Research & Policy at Asthma UK

The study, published in the journal Immunity, was funded by Asthma UK, the Medical Research Council and Wellcome.

The research was led by Dr Henry McSorley, of the Medical Research Council Centre for Inflammation Research at the University of Edinburgh with Professor Rick Maizels at the University of Glasgow.

Related links

Journal article

MRC Centre for Inflammation Research

Edinburgh Medical School

Image credit: Joel Bowron