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Important step-forward in mission to tackle parasitic worm infections

04 Oct 2013

Researchers from The Manchester Collaborative Centre for Inflammation Research (MCCIR), University of Manchester have made an important step forward in finding a potential treatment for an infection that affects over a billion people worldwide.

Electron microscopy image of Trichuris muris (a species of parasitic worm)
Electron microscopy image of Trichuris muris (a species of parasitic worm)

Gastrointestinal parasitic infections, which are worm infections in the intestine, affect nearly one quarter of the world population and have been heavily linked with poverty in poorer regions.

They normally result in a chronic, long-lived infection associated with poor quality of life and health problems.

A team led by Dr Mark Travis, MCCIR and the Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell-Matrix Research, has identified a pathway which seems to be important in driving the chronic infection and that could now potentially be targeted for therapy.

Dr Travis, from The University of Manchester’s Faculty of Life Sciences, said: “Current treatments involve the use of drugs that expel parasitic worms from the body by killing them. But this does not prevent rapid re-infection with worms and sufferers often encounter problems with drug resistance.

“As these infections are usually chronic they are likely to influence the way the body’s immune system behaves. We wanted to look in more detail at the pathways via cells and molecules in the body that regulate the immune response during infections.

“We believe this is crucial for identify new ways to treat these poorly managed infections.”

Researchers examined the behaviour of a key molecule which plays a multi-functional role in controlling the body’s immune response, known as TGFβ.

The study, published in the latest edition of the Open Access journal PLOS Pathogens, found when this key molecule was blocked early during an infection it significantly protected  from infection in mouse models.

Dr Travis said: “We have therefore identified a new pathway that regulates immune responses in the gut and can protect against infection. There now needs to be further research to see whether this could be used to create a protective immune response during a parasite infestation.”

ENDS

Notes for editors

Dr Mark Travis is available for interview. For further information or to request an interview, please contact: Alison Barbuti | Media Relations Officer | The University of Manchester
Tel. +44 (0)161 275 8383 | Mobile 07887 561 318 | Email: alison.barbuti@manchester.ac.uk

The paper is published in Open Access journal PLOS Pathogens on 3 October 2013 To view the article, please click here: http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1003675 
Dr Travis is also part of the Manchester Immunology Group and Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell-Matrix Research.

Images available on request showing the parasitic worms. Pictures show electron microscopy image of Trichuris muris (a species of parasitic worm) present in the large intestine. Please credit Toby Starborg, Uta Rössler and Allison Bancroft, Richard Grencis (Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Manchester).

The Wellcome Trust
The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. It supports the brightest minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities. The Trust’s breadth of support includes public engagement, education and the application of research to improve health. It is independent of both political and commercial interests. www.wellcome.ac.uk