A Cairns biotechnology company has its sights set on curing Type 2 diabetes – with a little help from Northern Australia’s unique array of parasitic worms.

Macrobiome Therapeutics and James Cook University’s (JCU’s) Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine (AITHM) will collaborate on a new $2.2 million R & D venture partly funded by the Cooperative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australian (CRCNA).

The project is looking to develop new treatments for Type 2 diabetes from the protein secretions of parasitic worms.

Professor Alex Loukas and Dr Paul Giacomin from JCU and Macrobiome Therapeutics said clinical trials have already tested whether parasitic worms, such as hookworms, could potentially protect infected humans from developing Type 2 diabetes.

“When a hookworm is within the body it secretes proteins that target inflammation, which is a major contributing factor to some metabolic conditions, including Type 2 diabetes,” Dr Giacomin said.

“We are interested in identifying the hookworm secreted proteins which suppress the inflammatory pathways that promote diabetes and other inflammatory conditions,” he said.

Now, Macrobiome and the Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine at James Cook University want to target these proteins and replicate them in the lab using pharmaceutical industry standards. They will test the protein molecules and determine which are best suited to the next stage of development and possible further clinical development and trials.

The researchers take their inspiration from the diverse tropical flora and fauna which surrounds them in Northern Queensland, where unique parasites and plants abound and present an untapped, rich source of next-generation therapeutics.

“Evolutionary biology has ensured that these ancient worms and other commensal organisms have evolved to live inside humans while causing as little harm as possible. Our goal is to exploit this remarkable example of co-evolution and harness it to develop entirely novel and safe medicines,” Professor Loukas said.

CRCNA Chair Sheriden Morris said if successful, the results of the project would be a game changer for millions of Australians.

“There’s a massive cost impost on the Australian health care system – with around $14.6 billion spent annually on treating people with Type 2 diabetes – many of whom live in Northern Australia.

“If we can work towards a cost-effective treatment which may prevent the onset of the disease, then those resources could be diverted to tackling other chronic diseases and bolstering the delivery of health care across Northern Australia.”

Media enquiries

CRCNA Communications Manager | Carla Keith 0499 330 051

JCU Media, Cairns | Linden Woodward 0419 791 564