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Parasites are a neglected area of medicine and Rick Maizels is working to change that. But his research also lends surprising findings in the human immune response to parasites: allergy relief. With Professor Maizels’ accessible language and explanations, this podcast explores an exciting step forward in both parasitology and allergy research.

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Listen and learn 

  • What his “proof principal” studies on intestinal tract parasites has shown regarding response to dust mites and other asthma-producing allergens,
  • How the “good cop” of the immune response, the regulatory T-cell, is affected by a protein product released by hookworms, and
  • What are other exciting therapeutics possible from parasitology research such as wound healing and hookworm vaccines. 

Rick Maizels is a professor of parasitology at the University of Glasgow and gives listeners a clear lesson in the latest science of parasite research. He leads listeners into the complex interchanges of cellular and molecular immunology to explain how parasites have the ability to dampen our immune system in ways that are sometimes beneficial for us.

He explains that parasites are a neglected area of medicine because they tend to infect the poorest parts of the world. Unfortunately, past research money and efforts have gone to the needs of wealthier world communities. But parasitologists are working hard to change that. As they increased this research, they noticed a reciprocal relationship between the prevalence of helminths and allergies. In other words, helminths presence is inversely related to the presence of allergies, as if parasites dampen “diseases of modernity.”

Professor Maizels explains this in more detail and says there’s a common theme: it involves the “good cop” of the immune cell—the regulatory T-cell. The regulatory T-cell makes sure that the immune response doesn’t go into overdrive or start attacking innocuous materials like the dust mite.

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It turns out that the parasite can affect the host gene expression in human body with products it releases. For example, the hookworm release a protein that binds to the T-cell, instructing it to make more. The overall effect is to dampen the immune system.

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He discusses more studies along these lines and the effect on conditions like ulcerative colitis and celiac disease. They’ve also found some parasites have wound healing properties, healing and preventing infections in their entry point into the host. Harnessing these findings can address parasitic infections in poorer communities and offer therapeutics like vaccines to work for immunity against helminths. Listen in to learn about additional exciting discoveries.

For more see, Professor Maizels’ lab website:

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