Millions could be protected from worm-related infections

May 6th, 2011 - 5:03 pm ICT by IANS  

London, May 6 (IANS) Researchers have identified a mucus that protects some people from harmful parasitic worms, opening the way to new therapies for millions of people worldwide.

It is a key component of mucus found in the guts of humans and animals that is toxic to worms, according to the findings of the University of Manchester.

Parasitic worms are a major cause of mortality and morbidity (diseased state), affecting up to a billion people, particularly in the Third World, as well as domestic pets and livestock across the globe, the Journal of Experimental Medicine reports.

“These parasitic worms live in the gut, which is protected by a thick layer of mucus,” explained David Thornton of the University’s Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell Matrix Research, according to a Manchester statement.

“The mucus barrier is not just slime, but a complex mixture of salts, water and large ’sugar-coated’ proteins called mucins that give mucus its gel-like properties.

“In order to be able to study these debilitating worm diseases, we have been using a mouse model in which we try to cure mice of the whipworm Trichuris muris. This worm is closely related to the human equivalent, Trichuris trichiura.

“We previously found that mice that were able to expel this whipworm from the gut made more mucus. Importantly, the mucus from these mice contained the mucin, Muc5ac. This mucin is rarely present in the gut, but when it is, it alters the physical properties of the mucus gel.”

Study co-author Richard Grencis from Manchester’s Faculty of Life Sciences said: “We found that mice genetically incapable of producing Muc5ac were unable to expel the worms, despite having a strong immune response against these parasites. This resulted in long-term infections.”

“Furthermore, we discovered the reason for the importance of Muc5ac is that it is ‘toxic’ for the worms and damages their health.”

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