Researchers have revealed that a substance secreted by parasitic tropical worms can offer an effective treatment for inflammatory types of arthritis.
Scientists at the universities of Glasgow and Strathclyde want to utilise the anti-inflammatory properties of the molecule, ES-62, which is produced by tropical nematode worms, to treat rheumatoid arthritis.
The ES-62 molecule circulates in millions of infected people in the Tropics and prevents the massive inflammatory responses that the worms are otherwise capable of producing in conditions such as elephantiasis.
The Universities of Glasgow and Strathclyde will carry out the project.
Auto-immune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis, tend to be rare in countries where parasitic worm infections are endemic, and the researchers believe ES-62 may be key.
They aim to produce a synthetic derivative of ES-62 which could be used to develop new drugs to combat rheumatoid arthritis.
They also hope the same approach could ultimately be fine-tuned to treat other types of auto-immune diseases, using cocktails of several ES-62 derived drugs.
ES-62 has no known adverse effect on general health, nor does it inhibit the ability of infected people to fight other infections.
"We will be focusing on mechanisms of combating hyper-inflammation that have developed naturally and with apparent acceptance by humans during their co-evolution with parasites," BBC quoted researcher Professor William Harnett, as saying.
Professor Iain McInnes, who will also be working on the project, said: "ES-62 appears to act like a thermostat to effectively turn down disease-causing inflammation which leaves essential defence mechanisms intact to fight infection and cancer.
"This property also makes ES-62 a unique tool for scientists to identify how such disease-causing inflammation occurs."