Pig parasites could be beneficial to humans

The pig whipworm could hold the key to new medical treatments

New treatments for inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, diabetes and autism could be on the horizon, after a global University of Melbourne — lead study successfully mapped the genes of a parasitic worm in pigs.

“We know that humans infected with the harmless, ‘pig whipworm’ can have significantly reduced symptoms linked to autoimmune diseases. And now we have the genetic sequence of the worm, it opens the door to future human drug designs and treatment,” lead researcher, Dr. Aaron Jex, faculty of veterinary science, said.

Although the ‘pig whipworm’ causes disease and losses in livestock, it does not cause disease in humans.

In contrast, the ‘human whipworm’ infects around one billion people, mainly children in developing nations, and causes dysentery, malnourishment and impairment of physical and mental development.

Co-author, Prof. Robin Gasser, faculty of veterinary science, said, “The genes tell us about the proteins that this worm uses to interact with our immune systems. Knowing the worm’s molecular landscape could be very useful in starting to understand autoimmune diseases in humans.”

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