2 New Helminth Papers: IBD and Obesity

Two new papers have just come out that provide yet more proof of the importance helminths play in health and a modulated immune response.

The first paper[i], published in the American Journal of Physiology, looked at using Hymenolepis diminuta (HD) to prevent inflammatory bowel disease. Researchers at the University of Calgary exposed young mice to HD. The mice expelled the helminths after 10 days or so – just like people do – as H.diminuta are native to rats. When the young mice were exposed to substances that induce colitis, the group that had first been exposed to helminths developed less severe disease. More than that, the exposure group was found to produce higher levels of anti-inflammatory cytokines.

The researchers conclude, “…we provide some of the first proof-of-concept data in support of the potential of developing helminth therapy to prevent or treat inflammatory disease in children and [we show] that a history of infection opens the possibility of using immunological memory against helminths to treat inflammation.”

The second paper[ii], just published in Scientific Reports, looked at the effects of helminths on obesity.  The researchers fed mice a high fat diet, leading to obesity, and then colonized them with the helminth Heligmosomoides polygyrus.  They “…observed that helminth infection resulted in significantly attenuated obesity.” The reduction in obesity corresponded to a variety of improved health markers including reduced blood glucose and triglyceride levels and increased levels of regulatory cytokines, lowering inflammation levels.  Another interesting part of their experiments:  when they transferred certain immune cells (M2 macrophages) which were associated with helminth infection to other non-helminth-infected obese mice, these too underwent an amelioration of high-fat-diet induced obesity.

In their discussion, the researchers conclude:

“The significant inhibitory effect of H. polygyrus infection on diet-induced obesity in our model supports the idea that helminth parasites, which infect millions of people worldwide, particularly in the developing world, may have beneficial metabolic effects. Our results also support the potential for helminths as a new class of biologics in treating inflammatory diseases and metabolic disorders….results from our study raise the intriguing possibility of using helminths as novel, safer and effective therapeutics in the treatment of obesity and other immune and metabolic disorders.”

Good news all around!

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[i] https://newswise.com/articles/tapeworms-could-prevent,-treat-inflammatory-bowel-disease-in-children

[ii] Su, CW, et. al. Helminth infection protects against high fat diet-induced obesity via induction of alternatively activated macrophages. Scientific Reports. 2018. 8:4607. doi:10.1038/s41598-018-22920-7.


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