Scientists have found that in countries where parasitic infections are common the incidence of autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, type-1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis, is relatively small. One hypothesis is that a chemical secreted by parasitic worms may have anti-inflammatory properties. If true, it may lead to a potential treatment for rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Previous research has discovered that the parasitic filarial nematode worm secretes a large molecule called ES-62 and that this molecule exerts anti-inflammatory action in laboratory cultures. Researchers from the Universities of Glasgow and Strathclyde are preparing to delve further into the possibilities of utilizing ES-62 as a treatment for RA.
Led by Professor Margaret Harnett, at the University of Glasgow’s Division of Immunology, Infection and Inflammation, the team is hoping to produce a synthetic form of ES-62 for use in developing an anti-inflammatory drug that can be used to treat inflammatory diseases.
There are tens of millions of people in the tropics that are infected by parasitic worms, all of whom have ES-62 in their bloodstream. This prevents the inflammatory response that accompanies the conditions that the worms can cause, such as elephantiasis. As far as they have found, ES-62 has no known adverse affects on general health, nor does it affect the ability to fight other infections.
According to Prof. William Harnett of the University of Strathclyde: “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 of the Unversity of Glasgow, another member of the research team, said: “ES-62 appears to act like a thermostat to effectively turn down disease-causing inflammation which leaves essential defence mechanisms intact to fight infection and cancer.
The research is being funded by a three-year grant of £213,700 from the Arthritis Research Campaign.