Investigating naturally occurring regulation of human IgE-mediated hypersensitivity using hookworm-schistosome co-infection

Lead Research Organisation: University of Cambridge
Department Name: Pathology


Hookworms are some of the most prevalent infections on earth, estimated to infect between 576 and 740 million people worldwide. A scourge in endemic regions, there is little evidence that naturally occurring immunity develops against them. Through secreted products hookworms potently modulate the immune system, providing them with longevity within the human host. This occurs even though they have tissue damaging interactions with the human host's gut while they feed. The mechanisms by which the immune system is modulated can be specific to hookworms or non-specific; the latter resulting in bystander effects, in which the response to other triggers of the immune system are down regulated. These bystander effects are one of the likely reasons for the very low incidence of allergic disease in communities where hookworm infection is endemic, and although attempts have been made to decipher the modulation exerted by hookworm on allergic responses, these are often hindered by the scarcity of individuals with allergic disease in hookworm endemic areas.

Responses to another prevalent worm infection, Schistosoma mansoni, can be under tight regulation. This is particularly true of the response to eggs which are deposited in their hundreds every day, a substantial number becoming trapped in the host tissue, exposing the host to molecules that initiate an immune response. Thus regulation of the response to these molecules prevents development of severe immune driven pathology. In contrast, the blood-dwelling adult schistosome worms immune evade, with cryptic triggers of the immune system only intermittently being exposed to the host upon worm death. This intermittent exposure allows the development of IgE mediated immunity; the same immune mechanism that causes allergic reactions, and indeed these IgE-assocatiated mechanisms observed in response to dying adult worms share many features with those observed in allergic diseases.

In Mayuge District, Uganda, where for the last decade we have been conducting research on the immune response to human worm infections, the burden of both hookworm and S. mansoni infection has remained high despite regular rounds of mass drug treatment. During our studies we have observed that the immune modulation of allergy associated responses by hookworm also encompasses the IgE mediated responses that are triggered during the development of immunity to S. mansoni infection. Here we propose to study the modulation of the anti-schistosome immune response by hookworm, investigating the targets of this modulation and the potential mechanisms by which hookworms exert their effects. This modulation by hookworm has major implications for the populations who are infected with these two worms, particularly in the context of drug administration schedules of the control programme. It may be that hookworm treatment needs to be administered prior to schistosome treatment, if the immune boosting treatment effects of anti-schistosome treatment are to be fully realised. Through the shared features with allergy, the study will also provide insight into how hookworm may modulate allergic responses, beneficial knowledge for developing treatments for the hundreds of million individuals currently estimated to have their daily lives adversely affected by allergic disease. This knowledge is critical as the number of individuals affected by allergy is constantly growing as our western lifestyle of urbanisation and development expands across the globe.

Technical Summary

From our previous immunological observations among schistosome and hookworm co-infected populations in Uganda, we hypothesis that human hookworm infection modulates the IgE effector mechanisms triggered by exposure to schistosome adult worm antigen.

We propose to conduct population based parasitological screens for selection of an adult case-control cohort of S. mansoni mono-infected controls and S. mansoni and hookworm co-infected cases for immunological analysis of IgE effector and regulatory immune mechanisms. The project aims to inform research into type-2 associated diseases by identifying potential targets of modulation, and the mechanism by which these responses are regulated.

To determine IgE effector mechanisms regulated in those with hookworm infection, a dual approach of ex vivo and in vivo responsiveness to worm derived antigens will be taken. Ex vivo we will examine control of basophil reactivity at the cellular and serological levels. We will use treatment with praziquantel, which disrupts the adults worm integrity, to examine in vivo responses, through read outs of the type-2 cytokine responses and eosinophil migration known to occur in the 24-hours following treatment. These assays will be combined with flow-cytometry analysis of the activation state of basophils, and eosinophils, both key effector cells in the type-2 immune response. B cell modulation of IgE production through cell surface and circulating soluble levels of its low affinity receptor CD23 will also be addressed.

Flow cytometry will also be used to address the second objective of identifying increases in regulatory cells and molecules that may confer type-2 response modulation in those infected with hookworm. Treg, Tr1 and Breg cell numbers will be being analysed, along with co-inhibitory signals, CTLA-4 and PD-1. These results will be analysed along side plasma measurements of the regulatory cytokine IL-10 and humoral IgG4 blocking responses.

Planned Impact

The most immediate beneficiaries of the proposed research are the participating communities. They will receive treatment for schistosomiasis and hookworm, and other common ailments, providing them with immediate health benefits. The wider community will also benefit, as through the explanation of the research to be conducted, comes an education and greater understanding of the parasites, their health consequences and the need for regular treatment. We have observed in our previous study villages, with whom communication is maintained, that the mass-treatment programmes are seen as a positive intervention. For the duration of the study, the research team at VCD-Uganda, will administer treatment on behalf of the National control programme, ensuring that the populations within the study villages receive treatment.

The data on infection levels of two parasites obtained from the parasitological screen, coupled with our previously collected questionnaire data on social economic status, treatment uptake and perception of the mass-treatment programme, will constitute data invaluable for assessment of the mass-control programme within this area highly endemic for the two parasites. We propose to run a workshop in which the scientific researchers involved in this research will discuss the translatable findings with public health practitioners working within the National control programme. Our collaborator Dr Edridah Tukahebwa is the current director of the Ugandan national control programme for neglected tropical diseases, ensuring that our results will be available to those working at the highest levels of the control programme within Uganda.

Uganda is not unique in carrying a burden of schistosome and hookworm co-infection. If established that hookworm is modulating schistosome specific IgE effector mechanisms, mechanisms associated with immunity and thought to inducible through repeated praziquantel treatment, the results of this study will be pertinent throughout the areas of the developing world where these two parasites co-exist; for the design of mass-treatment programmes for neglected tropical diseases is to administer drugs for a number of diseases over the course of a few days. It may be essential that albandazole is administered prior to praziquantel for the extended benefits of the latter to be fully realised.

The Principle Investigator, Prof David Dunne is the director of Cambridge-Africa and the Wellcome Trust Cambridge Centre for Global Health, a strategic operation by the University of Cambridge to invest in African researchers within Africa. Prof Dunne and the co-investigator, Dr Shona Wilson, mentor PhD students, registered at African Universities. They also undertake teaching on research orientated capacity building courses held within African countries, and will during the course of the project, extend this teaching to include interactive lectures integrated into African University MSc programmes. They will continue to stay at the forefront of these strategies throughout the duration of the project.

The investigators will carry out public engagement about the research. In these times of ring-fencing of aid money, including an increase in funding by the Department of International Development for treatment of neglected tropical diseases, it is of vital importance that the public is hearing not only from those directly involved in the control programmes but also from the researchers who are helping to elucidate the impact of these diseases on the health of millions.

Due the growing global importance of allergic diseases, allergy therapeutics is a huge area of investment for biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies. By publishing the results of the proposed work in internationally renowned scientific journals, the identified targets of modulation within the IgE effector pathways will be available to the research and development sectors of these commercial companies.


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Description Research into Action
Amount € 3,030,929 (EUR)
Funding ID RIA2017NIM-1842 
Organisation European Commission 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 08/2018 
End 07/2022
Title Research data supporting Protective human IgE responses are promoted by comparable life-cycle dependent Tegument Allergen-Like protein expression in Schistosoma haematobium and Schistosoma mansoni infection 
Description Research data supporting Protective human IgE responses are promoted by comparable life-cycle dependent Tegument Allergen-Like protein expression in Schistosoma haematobium and Schistosoma mansoni infection. To be made available upon publication. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2022 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Supports manuscript publication. 
Description IgE mediated basophil responses associated with helminth infection. 
Organisation RefLab
Country Denmark 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Implementation of adapted allergen-based basophil assays to use in field immuno-parasitological research.
Collaborator Contribution Adaption of commercial allergen based assay for use in helminth-based assays.
Impact Multi-disciplinary: parasitology and allergology. Papers pending.
Description Immuno-epidemiology studies of helminth infection in Uganda 
Organisation Ministry of Health, Uganda
Country Uganda 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Provide knowledge on the host immune response that will have an impact on the research and health implementation programmes that VCD conduct.
Collaborator Contribution VCD- Ministry of Health provide the expertise in field parasitology research that underpins all the research that we conduct in Uganda.
Impact Multi-disciplinary: parasitology and immunology. Numerous co-authored papers from previous studies. Papers from this study are pending.
Description Assessing global catastrophic risk potential of communicable chronic diseases 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Workshop held by the Centre for the study of Existential Risk, University of Cambridge to explore the potential of chronic rather than emerging infectious diseases in existential risk to human life.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description MedSin Society Seminar 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact Seminar for a medical student society based within University of Cambridge, who have an interest in global health.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
Description Research Dissemination Workshop in Uganda 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Research dissemination workshop held in Kampala Uganda. In attendance were NTD control programme managers both from National and Regional level (Mayuge District), regional officers from related fields such as water and sanitation, Ugandan WHO representative, local research ethics committee members and researchers from related fields from Makerere University and Uganda Virus Research Institute.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
Description Research Evening Presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Anna Bider Evening. Cambridge College research event attended by academics from across the disciplines, which led to questions and discussion afterwards on helminths and their affect on the health of populations in endemic areas.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description Severe schistosomiasis workshop, Kampala 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A two day workshop attended by cross-disciplinary experts including representatives from six sub-Sharan African countries.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019