Parasitic worms show promise in treating obesity
Last Updated: Wednesday, January 09, 2013, 16:15

Washington: Parasitic worms, which cause infections and a lot of pain and suffering in much of the developing world, may actually be useful in treating various disorders linked to obesity, says a new study.

The study shows that once inside a host, many parasitic worms secrete a sugar-based anti-inflammatory molecule that might help treat metabolic disorders associated with obesity.

The research was supported by the University of Georgia, the Harvard School of Public Health, the Universite Francois Rabelais in Tours, France, and the Central South University, Changsha, Hunan, China, the journal Nature Medicine reports.

The sugar molecule, or glycan, is released by parasites to help them evade the body`s immune system. By reducing inflammation, they are better able to hide in tissues, and humans experience fewer symptoms that might reveal their presence, according to a Georgia statement.

"Obesity is an inflammatory disease, so we hypothesized that this sugar might have some effect on complications related to it," said Donald Harn, study co-author who worked on the project while at Harvard and now is an investigator at the University of Georgia College Veterinary Medicine.

Researchers tested their hypothesis on mice fed a high-fat diet. Those in the control group (given normal diet) exhibited many of the symptoms linked with excessive weight gain, such as insulin resistance, high triglycerides and high cholesterol. Mice that received treatment with sugar still gained weight, but they did not suffer the same negative health effects.

"All of the metabolic indicators associated with obesity were restored to normal by giving these mice this sugar conjugate," said Harn, also a member of the Georgia Centre for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases.

"It won`t prevent obesity, but it will help alleviate some of the problems caused by it," Harn added.

The same sugars excreted by the parasites are also found in the developing human foetus and in human breast milk, which Harn suspects may establish proper metabolic functions in the newborn infant.


First Published: Wednesday, January 09, 2013, 16:15

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