Gut-busting research: University of Manchester discovery to revolutionise treatment of worm infections

By Phil Jones

Billions of people across the globe may benefit from new treatments for gastrointestinal worms thanks to newly- published research from the University of Manchester.

Nearly a quarter of the world’s population are infected with gastrointestinal parasites that can often lead to reduced appetite and weight loss.

This associated weight loss had previously been thought of as a negative response by the body’s immune system, but the new research suggests otherwise.

Dr John Worthington, faculty of life sciences, said: “We were quite surprised by what we found during this study.

“Normally weight loss is associated with a negative immune response but this appears to suggest just the opposite.

“We hope it will help us to design new treatments for the many millions of people who suffer from parasitic infections of the gut.”

Dr Worthington and colleague Professor John McLaughlin, institute of inflammation and repair, infected a mouse with a round-worm parasite for the purposes of their research.

The immune system response of the mouse was to use a hormone associated with stopping feeding reducing weight and fatty deposits.

This reduced the fat-produced hormone, leptin, which when artificially increased, produced an increase in time taken to expel the worm from the system.

“That the immune driven weight loss was actually beneficial to the mouse’s ability to resolve an infection and get rid of the worm was not what we expected,” added Dr Worthington. 

“Our study provides novel insights into how the immune system interacts with feeding pathways during intestinal inflammation.”

The impact of this research is not limited to gastrointestinal parasites though, and Professor McLaughlin is excited about the way if could affect thinking on other diseases.

“This may also have relevance to why other human diseases causing inflammation of the digestive system affect appetite and nutrition,” he said. 

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