New model for the development of hookworm vaccines – bacteria eating worms converted to a diet of human (academic) blood

02 Nov 2018 13:51:50.157

Having identified the complex physicochemical fingerprint of the parasitic hookworm, Necator americanus, researchers at the University of Nottingham set about changing the diet of a 'friendly' microscopic worm to assess the effectiveness of immune responses to anti-parasitic vaccines currently under development. And what better way to test this potential new model; by using their very own blood!

Dr Veeren Chauhan, from the School of Pharmacysaid: "Our results show the 'friendly' nematode roundworm C. elegans, which usually eats harmless bacteria in the laboratory, can survive on diet of human blood - specifically Professor David Pritchard’s blood. This 'friendly' microscopic worm contains key enzymes in its gastrointestinal tract, which are also found in the parasitic hookworm N. americanus. These enzymes are closely related to vaccine targets in the ground breaking Human Hookworm Vaccine Initiative."

‘Haematophagic Caenorhabditis elegans’ has been published in the academic journal Parasitology.

Click here for full story

These findings support the theory that C. eleganscould be used as a surrogate model for the parasitic nematode N. americanus, with the potential to accelerate vaccine research against hookworm and other important parasitic diseases.

The hookworm Necator americanusis found in tropical climates and gets into the body through the skin, usually when trodden on barefoot. The worm then sheds its own skin, which is thought to trigger a diversionary immune response. If left untreated heavy infections result in anaemia and long-term discomfort and disability. These immunological observations inspired the team to explore the chemistry of the two surfaces in greater detail. 

Hookworm research a decade on

It is ten years since David Pritchard, Professor of Parasite Immunology, at the University of Nottingham, hit the headlines after allowing 50 hookworms to burrow into his arm to test the effect these parasites have on humans.  This work established the necessary safety and regulatory criteria with regard to human infection studies. Subsequently, these worms are now cleared for use in therapeutic and vaccine challenge trials worldwide.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency UK (MHRA) and US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are now happy to allow patients and volunteers to be infected with hookworms, as a potential therapy for autoimmune diseasesor as a challenge infection post-vaccination for hookworm infection.

This time, as a healthy volunteer, he was able to simply donate his blood. This was fed to friendly C. elegans,to investigate whether they could ingest and survive on a diet of human red blood cells.  If they could, they would serve as a tractable model to further our understanding of blood feeding parasites, to interrogate their responses to antibodies to vaccines currently under development, and to search for new targets in the nematode’s intestine.

— Ends —

Our academics can now be interviewed for broadcast via our Media Hub, which offers a Globelynx fixed camera and ISDN line facilities at University Park campus. For further information please contact a member of the Communications team on +44 (0)115 951 5798, email or see the Globelynx website for how to register for this service.

For up to the minute media alerts, follow us on Twitter

Notes to editors: 

The University of Nottingham is a research-intensive university with a proud heritage, consistently ranked among the world's top 100. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our 44,000 students - Nottingham was named both Sports and International University of the Year in the 2019 Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide, was awarded gold in the TEF 2017 and features in the top 20 of all three major UK rankings. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement. We are ranked eighth for research power in the UK according to REF 2014. We have six beacons of research excellence helping to transform lives and change the world; we are also a major employer and industry partner - locally and globally.

Impact: The Nottingham Campaign, its biggest-ever fundraising campaign, is delivering the University’s vision to change lives, tackle global issues and shape the future. More news…

Story credits

More information is available from Dr Veeren Chauhan, in the School of Pharmacy at the University of Nottingham on +44 (0)115 9515100,
  Lindsay Brooke

Lindsay Brooke - Media Relations Manager

Email: Phone: +44 (0)115 951 5751 Location: University Park

Additional resources

No additional resources for this article

Related articles

Media Relations - External Relations

The University of Nottingham
YANG Fujia Building
Jubilee Campus
Wollaton Road
Nottingham, NG8 1BB

telephone: +44 (0) 115 951 5798