Could parasitic hookworms help us develop new asthma treatments?

HookwormResearch into parasitic hookworms hit the headlines this week after it was discovered that chemicals they release can relieve the symptoms of asthma. 

Hookworms are tiny parasites which are able to survive in the body by sending out chemicals to stifle the immune system. A study from Australia’s James Cook University, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, identified a protein they secrete that suppresses asthma in mice.

It is a promising avenue of research, so much so that that Asthma UK is funding a similar study led by Dr Henry McSorley to discover if new medicines could be developed based on the chemicals from parasitic worms.

Dr Erika Kennington, Head of Research at Asthma UK, said: “We’ve known for some time that parasitic worms release chemicals in order to evade detection by the body’s immune system and now researchers are thinking about whether this can be applied to treating asthma. 

“In order to survive, parasites have evolved a way to switch off, or dampen down, our allergic reactions. For people with asthma that is triggered by allergies, dampening this allergic reaction can stop their airways from becoming inflamed, preventing an asthma attack. Once we understand exactly how parasitic worms affect the immune system we can then look at potentially developing drugs based on the chemicals they produce.

“Although research in this area both at home and abroad shows promise, much work needs to be done before we know if it could lead to the development of new drugs. Not everyone with asthma responds to current treatments, which is why research like this is so important.”