Edinburgh researchers lead quest in worms to find asthma therapies

Worms could prevent asthma and offer the hope of a cure to the 5.4 million people in the UK with the condition, according to a breakthrough study funded by Asthma UK.

Studies conducted within the MRC Centre for Inflammation Research at the University of Edinburgh have found that parasitic worms that live in the intestines, known as roundworms, release a protein molecule which prevents its host from having an allergic reaction. 

Asthma attacks, which kill three people in the UK each day, are often triggered by allergies such as 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.  

Researchers hope that in the next 5-10 years, scientists could use this protein, called HpARI, as the basis for asthma treatments. They could reduce and possibly even prevent the allergic responses that contribute to the condition.  

People who live in countries where parasitic worms are common are less likely to have asthma. In South East Asia, less than 1 in 20 people are known to suffer from it. In the UK, however, 1 in 11 people live with the disease. 

Dr Henry McSorley, who lead the research along with Professor Rick Maizels (who is now at the University of Glasgow), said:  

We have known for some years that infections with parasitic worms appear to protect people against asthma. This has led to the proposal that deliberate self-infection with parasites could help asthma; however, this can be uncomfortable and impractical, as well as potentially causing other health issues. We have always believed that a better technique would be to identify how parasites prevent asthma, so that new parasite-inspired treatments can be developed.

Dr Samantha Walker, Director of Research & Policy at Asthma UK, said:  

This is exciting early research that could pave the way for the development of new treatments for asthma. It is becoming clear that there are many different types of asthma and that not all of them respond to current treatment, which is why research like this is so important. 

Asthma UK is the country's only asthma charity and provides advice and guidance to people with the condition through its helpline, staffed by nurses, website, leaflets and booklets. The charity also funds over 30 research projects into finding a way to help prevent, manage or cure asthma.

About Asthma UK

In the UK, 5.4 million people are currently receiving treatment for asthma: 1.1 million children (1 in 11) and 4.3 million adults (1 in 12).

Every day, the lives of three families are devastated by the death of a loved one to an asthma attack, and tragically two thirds of these deaths are preventable.

Asthma UK’s mission is to stop asthma attacks and cure asthma. We do this by funding world leading research, campaigning for improved care and supporting people to reduce their risk of a potentially life threatening asthma attack.

The Asthma UK Helpline is open weekdays from 9am to 5pm on 0300 222 5800. 

Links

Journal article on Science Direct website

Asthma UK website – Facts and Statistics

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