Scottish scientists say that medicines made from worms could treat or even prevent conditions such as asthma and rheumatoid arthritis.
According to the team at the Strathclyde Institute of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences, secretions from parasitic worms could be used on humans within five years in trials to keep the conditions at bay.
Professor Billy Harnett, professor of molecular immunology, said the worm study had been prompted by observations in developing countries, reports The Scotsman.
"What's been noticed over the past ten or 20 years is that people who live in Third World countries tend to have surprisingly low levels of things like asthma and rheumatoid arthritis," he said.
"One of the reasons considered to explain this, because these diseases have been increasing at an enormous rate in the West, was that maybe people were being exposed to something that was giving them some kind of protection against the development of these kind of disease," he added.
In their research, the boffins are working with parasites called filarial nematodes, which can cause conditions such as elephantiasis. It causes legs to swell grotesquely. The secretions seem to work by targeting cells in the body known as "mast" cells
"This is a critical cell in asthma," Prof Harnett said. "What happens in asthma is when your mast cells become exposed to things like pollen, for example, they become activated and start to secrete chemicals which cause all the distressing symptoms of asthma.
"This parasite derived molecule seems to block this process."
Dr Elaine Vickers, research relations manager at Asthma UK, said: "Results show the study of parasitic worms and their link to asthma is an exciting area worth further investigation."