Hookworms - parasites that commonly penetrate the skin through bare feet before making their way to the small intestine where they can cause severe stomach cramps, nausea, and diarrhea - have been the topic of recent research that states these once thought to be harmful organisms may actually be beneficial in preventing autoimmune diseases. According to Popular Science, a team of researchers have isolated a protein secreted by these worms "that could be a key factor in their healing powers."
Lead study author Severine Navarro of James Cook University states that "you don't even need the whole parasite to see protection against inflammation. The products that they secrete in their spit where all the protective properties lie."
Several studies in the past several years have looked at how re-infecting patients with certain hookworms can treat autoimmune conditions such as celiac and inflammatory bowel disease. However, in this study, researchers focused treating asthma.
During an attack, immune cells try to get rid of irritating particles, which causes a great deal of inflammation and muscle contraction, which makes the sufferer wheeze and cough. This can occur even when the irritating particles aren't present. To test their theory, the team created a "soup" of AIP-2, an anti-inflammatory protein secreted by hookworms, which re-wires the immune reaction from being pro-inflammatory to anti-inflammatory. They then injected this "soup" into test mice. The protein "almost completely reversed" the asthma symptoms, Navarro said. The lung function and breathing of the mice also improved. The team is currently in search of a company to begin sponsoring clinical trials.