Parasitic Worms May Help Treat Diseases Associated with Obesity

On the list of undesirable medical conditions, a parasitic worm infection surely ranks fairly high. Although modern pharmaceuticals have made them less of a threat in some areas, these organisms are still a major cause of disease and disability throughout much of the developing world.

But parasites are not all bad, according to new research by a team of scientists now at the University of Georgia, the Harvard School of Public Health, the Université François Rabelais in Tours, France, and the Central South University, Changsha, Hunan, China.

A study published recently in Nature Medicine demonstrates that once inside a host, many parasitic worms secrete a sugar-based anti-inflammatory molecule that might actually help treat metabolic disorders associated with obesity.

“All of the metabolic indicators associated with obesity were restored to normal by giving these mice this sugar conjugate,” said Donald Harn, study co-author who worked on the research while at Harvard School of Public Health and is now Georgia Research Alliance Distinguished Investigator in the UGA College of Veterinary Medicine’s Department of Infectious Diseases. Harn is also a member of UGA’s Faculty of Infectious Diseases and the Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases.

“It won’t prevent obesity, but it will help alleviate some of the problems caused by it.”

“Obesity is an inflammatory disease, so we hypothesized that this sugar might have some effect on complications related to it,” said Harn.