Based in Ecuador, Professor Philip Cooper is investigating parasitic worm infections and their relationships with asthma and other inflammatory diseases.
Some two billion people worldwide, most of them children, are infected with soil-transmitted helminths such as Ascaris lumbricoides, Trichuris trichiura and hookworms. Such infections affect growth and cognitive development, but may have an upside, rendering the immune system less reactive and thereby reducing the risk of asthma and other allergic and inflammatory conditions.
For two decades, Professor Philip Cooper has been addressing these issues with colleagues in South America, particularly Ecuador and Brazil. Notably, he has established a birth cohort in a rural area of Ecuador, the Ecuador Life (ECUAVIDA) study in Esmeraldas Province. The only such study of its kind in South America, ECUAVlDA has recruited 2,400 newborns, who will be followed up to the age of eight.
A wide range of data are being collected on childhood (and maternal) infections, lifestyle and demographic factors, and measures of immune system function. A key question will be whether early helminth infection is associated with a reduced risk of asthma in later childhood and, if so, what the immunological mechanisms of this protection might be. Ultimately, this could lead to the development of treatments that have the same anti-inflammatory effects as worm infection but without the downsides.
- Cooper PJ et al. Cohort Profile: The Ecuador Life (ECUAVIDA) study in Esmeraldas Province, Ecuador. Int J Epidemiol. 2014. pii: dyu128.