‘Devastating’ global impact of parasitic worms and allergies may be eradicated thanks to Manchester Uni study

Parasitic worms and allergies have a ‘devastating’ impact on the lives of billions around the globe – but now the University of Manchester is taking steps to tackle our currently ‘limited’ understanding of these conditions and how to treat them.

Significant progress in the development of therapies for worm infections and allergic responses, like asthma, has been made thanks to new research led by Professor Andrew MacDonald.

In the paper, published in Nature Communications, the professor and his team identified a new way that immune cells control inflammation.

It is important to understand how this type of inflammation is controlled as it can be very damaging and, in some cases, lead to long-term conditions.

Professor MacDonald said: “Although both worm infections and allergies exert a devastating global impact and lack effective vaccines of refined treatments, basic knowledge of the key cell types and mediators that control immunity and inflammation against either condition is currently limited.”

“With billions of people affected by both allergies and worm infections around the world it is vital that we develop better methods of treatment.

“It’s also important to tackle the inflammation caused by these conditions, as it has been shown to play a role in the development of longer term diseases such as asthma.”

During the study the team looked at dendritic cells – a particular type of cell in the immune system that is a vital first responder to worms or allergies.

The main function of these cells is to recognise infection and flick the switch to get the right bodily functions up and running to combat it, including inflammation.

What is not known is precisely how immune cells switch on the kind of inflammation found during worm infections or allergies.

The professor and his team studied dendritic cells in the lab and in animal models to discover how they were activated by parasitic worms or lung allergens, such as dust mites.

They found that a particular protein, Mbd2, is key to dendritic cells’ ability to switch on inflammation – when the protein was removed it led to very different cells with a dramatically impaired ability to activate inflammation.

The study also revealed that Mbd2 influences a wide range of genes important for multiple aspects of dendritic cell function without affecting their DNA sequence, meaning the protein is an ‘epigenetic’ regulator.

“For the first time we have identified that this protein is a key controller of dendritic cells during inflammation against parasitic worms or allergens,” said Professor MacDonald.

“It’s an important step, as all inflammation is not identical, and scientists try to understand which specific cells and chemical are more important in the body’s response to particular infections.

“In the past, medicines have had a broad approach, affecting all aspects of a condition rather than being targeted.

“In the future it might be possible to create medicines that control the inflammation caused specifically by an allergy or a parasitic worm, rather than by a virus such as a common cold.”

Image courtesy of University of Salford, with thanks.

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