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Researcher P’ng Loke investigates how our microbiome and immune system interacts with parasitic worm infections.

He relays key points in his research, including

  • The decision one man made 15 years ago to voluntarily infect himself with worms and the results that fascinated Loke,
  • The role the “hygiene hypothesis ” plays in the direction of his research, and
  • The findings thus far of helminth impacts on our immune system.

P’ng Loke  is a senior investigator at the NIH and Chief of the Type 2 Immunity Section of the NIH’s Laboratory of Parasitic Diseases. He explains to listeners that parasitic worms are really good at manipulating their hosts’ immune response, particularly in how they affect a type of immune cell called the macrophage.

In fact, they are able to remain in hosts for years if not decades undetected. This has huge potential in multiple therapeutic avenues, from organ transplants to overactive immune responses such as inflammatory and other bowel diseases.

Loke explains the beginnings of his studies, including a fascinating case of a man suffering from IBD who infected himself with whipworms on purpose after reading some studies and found his disease went in remission. Loke then describes various reasons for this as well as how our efforts toward modern sanitation may have altered our immune system in some ways. 

 He explains that parasitic worms, like helminths, have figured out how to mask themselves from hosts’ immune responses, making them akin to a successful organ transplant. If scientists can understand how they are manipulating the immune response to downregulate or suppress its immunity, they may uncover many therapeutic treatments.

He adds that most scientists think it is a spillover response—and the ways they affect the type 2 immune cells such as a type of macrophage cell—can lead to a protective barrier of mucus that prohibits bowel inflammation and disease in some cases. He explains this and other theories in more depth, so listen in.

For more, see his lab’s website: niaid.nih.gov/research/png-loke-phd

Available on Apple Podcasts: apple.co/2Os0myK

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