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Last Updated: Monday, 7 August 2006, 12:41 GMT 13:41 UK
Experts aim to put worms to work
A worm
Intestinal worms could provide an answer to allergic diseases
A world conference of parasitologists in Glasgow is asking: Could a worm a day keep the doctor away?

Scientists are looking at parasites to treat allergic conditions such as asthma and inflammatory bowel disease.

It is one of a range of issues to be examined by 2,000 delegates from 88 countries at the six-day conference on parasitology and tropical disease.

Treating malaria, which kills three million people a year, with new drugs is also on the agenda.

The International Congress of Parasitology got under way on Monday.

Dr Mike Barrett, an expert in parasitology at the University of Glasgow, said allergic reactions are reaching epidemic proportions in the western world because we live in "super-sterile" conditions.

Scottish leader

In the developing world, allergies are "very rare".

He said: "Parasites depend upon their hosts in order to survive.

"But to survive inside us, parasites must avoid the efforts that our immune system makes to destroy them.

"Many parasitic worms have therefore developed ways of dampening down the inflammatory immune responses that are also responsible for many of the symptoms of allergic disease.

"The results of recent clinical trials using worms to treat patients with inflammatory bowel disease will be presented and discussed."

Dr Barrett said Scotland is a "world leader" in researching and treating tropical disease.

An exhibition at the Glasgow Science Centre shows how Scottish investigators in the 19th and early 20th centuries dominated medicine throughout the British Empire.

Dr Barrett added: "Dr Livingstone succeeded in exploring the African interior mainly because his medical training enabled him to avoid the infections that killed so many of his predecessors.

"A distant relative of Livingstone, Patrick Manson, from Oldmeldrum (near Aberdeen) is known as the father of tropical medicine.

"He made innumerable discoveries in this area and inspired a generation of investigators, many educated at Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen universities, who discovered the causes of exotic diseases like elephantiasis, bilharzia, African sleeping sickness and leishmaniasis."

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