Parasitic worms of pigs could aid human diseases

New treatments for could be on horizon for several human diseases, after a global study mapped the genes of a parasitic worm in pigs.

New treatments for inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, diabetes and autism could be on the horizon, after a global study led by the University of Melbourne in Australia successfully mapped the genes of the pig whipworm.

Lead researcher Dr. Aaron Jex with the university'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. Now (that) 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, Jex pointed out.

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.

Coauthor Robin Gasser, also with the Faculty of Veterinary Science, said, "The genes tells us about the proteins that this worm uses to interact with our immune systems. Knowing the worm's molecular landscape could be very useful in starting to understand autoimmune diseases in humans."

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

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