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Protein from a Worm Parasite Could Provide New Treatments for Inflammatory Bowel Diseases

A PROTEIN from a worm parasite could provide the basis for future treatment options for inflammatory bowel diseases, according to researchers at the University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK. It is hoped that the discovery of the protein will eventually harness therapies that avoid the serious side effects that can occur with current immunosuppressant medications for conditions such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.

T Cell Therapy
New treatment approaches are much sought after for inflammatory bowel diseases; these conditions are composed of many variations, requiring individualised treatment approaches for patients. One of these approaches is T cell therapy, which involves converting a patient’s T cells into regulatory T cells (Tregs), the body’s method of preventing excessive reactivity, and returning them to the patient. The distinct worm protein discovered by this team of researchers mimics the cytokine TGF-β that is found in humans. It was found that the protein induces Tregs, which switches off inflammation.

“Very Exciting” Discovery
First author of the study, Dr Danielle Smyth, Research Associate in Parasitology, Institute of Infection, Immunity and Inflammation, University of Glasgow, commented: “Discovering a new protein that can potently induce regulatory Tregs from human cells is unexpected and very exciting in terms of finding a new potential biologic for inflammation conditions.”

‘Hygiene Hypothesis’
It is believed that certain parasites can offer protection for people against an overly-reactive immune system, which could be a much safer option than the medications currently available. This is known as the ‘hygiene hypothesis’, and is the inspiration behind the study.

Further Research
The next stage of research is to test whether the parasite molecule offers a regulatory advantage over current treatment options. Prof Rick Maizels, Professor of Parasitology, Institute of Infection, Immunity and Inflammation, University of Glasgow, said: “The next horizon for these exciting findings will be to test whether the new protein can be used to treat inflammatory diseases, reaping the benefits of the hygiene hypothesis and dispensing with the parasites themselves.”

James Coker, Senior Editorial Assistant

Keywords: Biologic, Crohn’s Disease, hygiene hypothesis, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Protein, regulatory T cells, Ulcerative Colitis, worm parasite