A Parasitic Worm In Pigs Could Help Treat Human Autoimmune Diseases

Scanning electron micrograph of an adult whipworm roundworm parasite. Credit: Uta Rössler, Toby Starborg, Allison Bancroft and Richard Grencis, The University of Manchester.

New treatments for inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, diabetes and autism could be on the horizon after an Australia-led global study successfully mapped the genes of a parasitic worm in pigs.

Dr Aaron Jex, of the University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Veterinary Science, said:

“We know that humans infected with the harmless, pig whipworm can have significantly reduced symptoms linked to autoimmune diseases. And now we have the genetic sequence of the worm, it opens the door to future human drug designs and treatment.”

Although the pig whipworm causes disease and losses in livestock, it does not cause disease in humans.

In contrast, the human whipworm infects around 1 billion people, mainly children in developing nations, and causes dysentery, malnourishment and impairment of physical and mental development.

The study involved 11 institutions in six countries and is published in the journal Nature Genetics online.

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