Can Hookworms Hold The Key To Future Asthma Treatments?

B.S. Dietetics, Dietitian, Health Professional

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According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 20 million people in the United States have asthma. For most people, asthma is kept in check through the use of maintenance medications and rescue medications. Unfortunately, up to half of asthma patients may not respond to the standard treatment regimen—leading researchers to seek out new ways to treat the disease.

Successful models using worm protein have been shown to reduce inflammation in diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)multiple sclerosis (MS), and arthritis. Researchers have sought to apply those findings to other inflammatory diseases, such as asthma. Like IBD, MS, and arthritis, asthma involves the deregulation of the immune system, which can lead to inflammation.

A recent study, “Hookworm recombinant protein promotes regulatory T cell responses that suppress experimental asthma,” published in Science Translational Medicine, may provide hope for new treatments for asthma. Parasitic worms regulate their human host's immune response in order to live. Harnessing that ability is how the study’s researchers proposed to regulate asthmatic patients’ inflammatory response.

In the study, researchers tested the AIP-2 protein, found in the hookworm’s spit, on mouse models of asthma. The mice were administered the protein (nasally and by injection) and then were exposed to an allergen shown to trigger their inflammation and asthma. What researchers found was amazing — the AIP-2 reduced the action of several inflammatory cells, including dendritic cells** and T cells, along with a reduction in measurable asthma symptoms**.

What this means for future asthma treatments is beyond exciting. Because researchers used only the protein produced by the hookworm, patients would not have to be infested with the worm in order to see results. AIP-2 was also able to be recombined, which allows for the potential production of a pill for use in asthma patients. While additional research and human trials are still needed, this may be a huge step toward treating asthma at the immune-response level — preventing attacks from ever occurring.

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Jennifer has a bachelor's degree in dietetics as well as graduate work in public health and nutrition.She has worked with families dealing with digestive disease, asthma and food allergies for the past 12 years.Jennifer also serves the Board of Directors for Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association (PAGER).