Rise in allergies linked to war on bacteria

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    Mar 31, 2012 5:06 AM GMT

    "Allergic diseases have reached pandemic levels," begins David Artis's new paper in Nature Medicine. Artis goes on to say that, while everyone knows allergies are caused by a combination of factors involving both nature and nurture, that knowledge doesn't help us identify what is culpable—it is not at all clear exactly what is involved, or how the relevant players promote allergic responses.

    There is some evidence that one of the causes lies within our guts. Epidemiological studies have linked changes in the species present in commensal bacteria—the trillions of microorganisms that reside in our colon—to the development of allergic diseases. (Typically, somewhere between 1,000 and 15,000 different bacterial species inhabit our guts.) And immunologists know that signaling molecules produced by some immune cells mediate allergic inflammation.

    Animal studies have provided the link between these two, showing that commensal bacteria promote allergic inflammation. But these researchers wanted to know more about how.

    To figure it out, Artis and his colleagues at Penn's School of Veterinary Medicine treated mice with a broad range of oral antibiotics to diminish or deplete their commensal bacteria and then examined different immunological parameters. They used a combination of five different antibiotics, ranging from ampicillin, which is fairly run of the mill, to vancomycin, which is kind of a nasty one.

    They found that mice treated with antibiotics had elevated levels of antibodies known to be important in allergies and asthma (IgE class antibodies). The elevated antibodies in turn increased the levels of basophils, immune cells that play a role in inflammation, both allergic and otherwise.
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    Mar 31, 2012 5:19 AM GMT
    War is bad, mmkay?
  • dancedancekj

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    Mar 31, 2012 6:28 AM GMT
    I did read about a guy who cured his allergies using pinworms, I believe. He had to trudge through latrines in a third world country to get them. He completely reversed his allergic reactions. There were two major downsides to the treatment however:

    1) Colonization requires you to cough up the worms and then swallow them. This coughing is so violent it causes you to vomit, and is very painful.

    2) The worms are extremely sensitive to nitrous oxide, which isn't much of a problem for most people unless you oh, just happen to be working in a field that uses it on a regular basis icon_rolleyes.gif
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    Mar 31, 2012 6:54 AM GMT
    I have a good friend with Crohn's and her husband and I joke that all it would take is worms... she's says she's patient and would wait for the drugs but there are days she'd consider it.

    You might be thinking of this study with hookworms:

    Professor David Pritchard and his team at Nottingham University's School of Pharmacy administered different amounts of the hookworms to themselves to prove that it would be safe. Pritchard himself stuck 50 of the larvae onto his skin. 'It was fairly itchy when they first go through the skin,' he admitted. 'After that you don't really notice them.'

    The trials proved that at a low 'dosage' of 10 worms the infection was safe. Last week the first patients arrived at the school of pharmacy to have the hookworm larvae administered, to see if it would quell hay fever symptoms. Pritchard said: 'The pollen season is coming in spring and we hope that we might see an alleviation of symptoms in some of the patients who received the worms. If we think there's some indication of success, we would move on to asthma patients.'

    In the Seventies doctors first noticed that people infected with hookworms did not seem to suffer from allergies such as asthma, and scientists have reported that Crohn's disease also does not appear in countries where the infection is rife. Pritchard wants to see if the hookworms are influencing regulatory T-cells, which seem to keep the immune responses in check. 'If we can work out how these cells are switched on, then the pharmaceutical industry could become involved.'

    More here from the leading researcher in the field:
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    Mar 31, 2012 5:41 PM GMT
    I saw a lecture recently by a leading Crohns medical researcher. She did point out that the disease is only prevalent in countries where intestinal worms have been eradicated.

    The allergy connection is new to me. I think I'd try it worms if it meant living the rest of my life with clear sinuses.
  • gamble

    Posts: 48

    Mar 31, 2012 5:53 PM GMT
    Radiolab did a great episode about parasites in which they talk about how the human immune system likely co-evolved with hookworms over time. The rest of the episode might make you a little squeamish though...

    It's such a great show!

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    Mar 31, 2012 5:56 PM GMT
    old news in uk they actually do administer worms in ur guts because we've evoled to be in symbiosis with them but food practices from 2 generations ago has been too sterile hence causes allergies. It's why third world countries don't have such problems

  • Mar 31, 2012 6:28 PM GMT
    This thread reminds me why I hated biology class.