Parasitic worms are known for infecting over a billion people worldwide and kill or sicken many every year. But they may be useful in treating lung disease and healing wounds, according to a new study.
The research, published in the journal Nature Medicine, found that the worms trigger key elements of the immune system responsible for mending damaged tissues and reducing inflammation. These live worms could be used someday in a controlled setting to treat serious lung injury caused by respiratory infections, such as pneumonia, said lead study author William Gause of New Jersey Medical School.
Gause and his colleagues studied a worm in rodents called Nippostrongylus brasiliensis, similar to a specific hookworm that infects over 700 million humans every year. They found that both the worms enter the hostís body when skin, often on the feet, comes in contact with worm larvae in feces-contaminated mud or water.
The larvae travel through the circulatory system to the lungs; burrow out through windpipe; get swallowed down the esophagus; and then make their way through the stomach to the small intestines, where they mature into worms and propagate furiously, producing millions of eggs.
But researchers found the immune system proteins called cytokines that help to oust intestinal worms in mouse lungs also initiate a cascade of healing.