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Parasites: a modern cure

Using worm therapy to combat modern diseases such as asthma is the topic of the first in the series of free Science at the Salthouse lectures organised by James Cook University on July 25.

Using worm therapy to combat modern diseases such as asthma is the topic of the first in the series of James Cook University’s free Science at the Salt House lectures, on July 25.

Queensland Tropical Health Alliance researcher Professor Alex Loukas will talk about the potential of treating inflammatory diseases with live parasitic worms and molecules derived from ‘worm saliva’ to mimic the effect of a worm infection.

His talk, An ancient cure for modern diseases, will be held on Wednesday, July 25, 6.30-7.30pm at the Salt House.

US pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceutical Inc. announced this week it would provide funding over three years to Professor Loukas' team to accelerate the development of the worm molecules towards clinical trials.

“In developed countries such as Australia, we have rid ourselves of many of the infectious diseases that still plague developing countries throughout the tropics,” Professor Loukas said.

“A consequence of our industrialisation and associated improved hygiene standards is an ‘epidemic’ in inflammatory diseases.

“In Australia we are experiencing unprecedented rates of asthma, food allergies, diabetes and inflammatory bowel diseases.

“Intriguingly, these inflammatory diseases are far less frequently encountered in developing countries where people's immune systems are pre-occupied in the fight against infectious agents, such as parasitic worms.”

The tropical research leader’s key research interest is the molecular basis of host-parasite relationships, with a particular focus on characterising the functions of molecules secreted by parasitic helminths (worms) that infect humans in developing countries.

His research is supported by international and national funding bodies including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Australian and US governments, and large pharmaceutical companies.

Professor Loukas is the founding director of the Centre for Biodiscovery and Molecular Development of Therapeutics at JCU, holds an NHMRC Principal Research Fellowship and is editor-in-chief of the International Journal for Parasitology.

Issued July 7, 2012

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