Get the worms?

We have been discussing allergies and asthma in class for some time. We know that the immune responses that cause allergies and asthma are the same as those that respond to a helminth  infection; infections with roundworms, hookworms, tapeworms and flukes.  We make an IgE response and utilize mast cells to to help to eliminate these invaders. For some reason, people who have allergies and asthma make the same responses to non-pathogenic molecules (cat dander, dust mites, grass pollens). Why? We don’t know.  The hygiene hypothesis tells us that it because we are too clean and our immune systems aren’t getting properly educated.

We also know that individuals who live in areas of the world where helminth infections are endemic don’t have as many allergies or autoimmunity. So the question is: would educating our immune system to an actual helminth infection educate it to stop overreacting?

A group of people who are  of proponents of  of “biotherapy” think so. They  advocate infecting individuals with a parasitic helminth infections which may stop allergies or autoimmune disease. Unfortunately, it appears that the biggest drawback to the therapy, is actually… the therapy. You would be injected or infected with worms. It is being called imaginatively enough helminthic therapy. One form is:

the use of parasitic whipworms to battle auto-immune disorders like Crohn’s disease or severe allergies.

They not only hypothesize that it could aid in the elimination of allergies, but also possibly autoimmune diseases. The thought is that historically humans evolved to have continuing parasitic infections. A little like real life symbionts. The biotherapists are terming it “The Old Friends Hypothesis”:

“Many of these worms are bio-engineered for humans,” Weinstock told Discovery News. “We adapt to them; they adapt to us. It becomes like an organ, just like your heart, your spleen or your liver.”

Many people are so convinced that this works they are not waiting until a “treatment” is available. They are going out and infecting themselves. I personally recommend waiting. Helminths can cause disease if not properly controlled.

However, after experiencing the allergies of the south, I am thinking that becoming a Trill (see symbiont above) for a short period of time may not be the most terrible of events.

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