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  • Blood-sucking hookworms treatment for autoimmune diseases

    Author: AAP

Proteins extracted from hookworm saliva may soon treat common autoimmune diseases following an injection of funds into a Queensland biotech startup.

Blood-sucking hookworms loom as the next big thing in the global medical battle against autoimmune diseases with a Queensland startup hoping to lead the way.

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Scientists have been extracting proteins from the saliva of the once-common parasite and trialling it as a prevention for common autoimmune diseases, such as asthma and inflammatory bowel disease.

Professor of tropical parasitology Alex Loukas says with autoimmune diseases reaching epidemic proportions in developed countries, there's an urgent need for new therapies.

"We're being guided in our drug discovery efforts by millennia of co-evolution between parasitic hookworms and their mammalian hosts," he said.

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"In particular, the effect hookworms can have on our immune systems."

Researchers at James Cook University's biotech startup Paragen Bio Pty Ltd believe the hookworm saliva extract will also be useful in treating rheumatoid arthritis and common allergies.

The novel approach was clinically trialled by the university's tropical health and medicine team after the link between hookworms and autoimmune diseases was discovered.

Access to clean drinking water and anti-worm therapies has led to a fall in infections of the parasite, but it's also led to a corresponding increase in inflammatory autoimmune diseases.

The hookworm-based treatment will now be further developed following a $6 million investment in the new biotech company by venture capitalists AbbVie Ventures, Brandon Capital and OneVentures.

Prof Loukas said investment would help the team make the step from research to trialling a potential treatment.

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