Who would have thought that tiny worms might hold the key to abolishing some of the most complex diseases known to humankind? It might sound too incredible to be true, but it’s definitely a possibility!
Immunomodulatory illnesses such as rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, and other diseases are very mysterious. They are caused when the body starts attacking its own healthy tissues. The attack then causes the body to trigger inflammation in tissues where there is no actual invading organism. The result is that healthy tissues get damaged and the patient suffers pain and other complications.
So, where do worms come in? Well, helminthes parasites — small worms that infect bodies of animals and humans — have a key to shutting down the body’s defense mechanisms. Regulatory cells trigger the body to start releasing white blood cells on invading organisms, but they are also responsible for telling the body to turn against its own healthy tissues as well.
The parasites seem to be able to control the regulatory cells, telling them to shut down the immune response. This way, the body can’t try to push the parasites out. This can benefit people in two ways.
First of all, by learning how the parasites shut down the regulatory cells, scientists can reverse the action. This can help reactivate the immune system when it has been compromised and it may help fight diseases such as diabetes. It could also help people infected with the parasites get rid of the invading organisms.
The second benefit may come from figuring out how to shut down certain regulatory cells that are responsible for making the body think its own tissues are a threat. This could help scientists figure out ways to fight rheumatoid diseases, allergies, lupus, and several other conditions.
The trick, of course, is to make sure that only the messed- up regulatory cells get shut down so the body can continue to fight off invading organisms such as bacteria and parasites.