The same sugars excreted by the parasites are also found in the developing human fetus and in human breast milk, which Harn suspects may establish proper metabolic functions in the newborn infant. Beyond infancy, however, sugar expression is only found on a few cells, and the only external source for the sugar is parasitic worms.
Because parasites co-evolved with mammals over millions of years, some scientists believe that the relationship between humans and worms is more symbiotic than parasitic, and that small worm infections might actually have some benefits.
"Prevalence of inflammation-based diseases is extremely low in countries where people are commonly infected with worms," Harn said. "But the minute you start deworming people, it doesn't take too long for these autoimmune diseases to pop up."
This doesn't mean that people should actively seek out parasitic infections as treatment, he said. But it is an indication that the compounds secreted by worms may serve as the basis for future therapies.
In addition to obesity-related disease, Harn and his colleagues have demonstrated that the sugar molecule released by parasites may alleviate a number of other serious inflammatory medical conditions.
It may work as a treatment for psoriasis, a disease that causes skin redness and irritation. The sugar also appears to serve as a powerful anti-rejection drug that may one day be used in patients who have received organ transplants. And it has been shown to halt or even reverse the symptoms of multiple sclerosis in mice.
More research is needed before this sugar molecule can be tested in humans, but Harn and his colleagues are hopeful that they can create effective treatments that provide all the benefi
|Contact: Donald Harn |
University of Georgia