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Medical Librarian Presents at International Bioinformatics Conference

Medical Librarian Presents at Bioinformatics International Conference

Lowell General Hospital's Donna Beales introduces Theoretical Model for Treatment of Hereditary Angioedema

July 10, 2008 - Lowell, Mass. and Orlando, FL - Donna Beales, MLIS, of Lowell General Hospital (Lowell, MA) presented her paper "Helminths in the Treatment of Hereditary Angioedema: A Theoretical Model in Support of a Novel Therapeutic Option" at the 2008 International Conference on Bioinformatics, Computational Biology, Genomics and Chemoinformatics (BCBGC-08). The conference took place July 7-10 at the Imperial Swan Hotel in Orlando, FL. Beales has been supported in her work through grants from Lowell General Hospital and the Hereditary Angioedema Association, which is headquartered in New Bedford, MA.

Beales, a Medical Librarian at Lowell General hospital with a background in experimental design, was inspired by a recent Grand Round medical education activity held at Lowell General Hospital. Beales became intrigued by a theory called the "hygiene hypothesis," which posits that the reason why autoimmune conditions like Crohn's disease, allergies, asthma and many others are becoming more common is because developed countries like the U.S. have over-sterilized the environment. Some scientists believe that certain people may need low levels of very specific biological agents in order to be healthy.

Beales was inspired by a Grand Rounds session when Dr. Joel Weinstock from Tufts University presented on his work with helminths, tiny intestinal "worms," as potential treatment options for people with Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. His experimental results astonished the scientific community, showing a 50% remission rate in his patients. By comparison, if a drug helps 5% of people, it's considered a success. "His work focused on "helper T cells" called Th2 cells, which protect the body from germs, but which can malfunction, causing the body to basically attack itself," explained Beales.

Beales had, through previous research, become familiar with a rare life-threatening condition called Hereditary Angioedema (HAE), a blood disorder that causes patients to swell uncontrollably, often in the throat. HAE resembles allergies but is an unrelated condition. It's caused by a problem with the way blood coagulates, and it kills by asphyxiating sufferers. "While listening to Dr. Weinstock, a light bulb went off in my head. He said that allergies, asthma and Cohn's are unheard of in countries where people are naturally infected with parasites. So is HAE. Also, HAE is often associated with autoimmune diseases. Could there be a connection between the two observations?"

After conducting many exhaustive searches of the medical literature, Beales determined that two different species of worms that are already being used in human experiments have been shown to have the effect of shutting down several of the chemicals in the blood that cause the life-threatening swelling in HAE. Hers is the first scientific work to make this connection.

"Parasites seem to act like a computer software patch," says Beales. "The worms have their own DNA, and it basically overrides ours. So perhaps many genetic "defects" are really only problems when there's no parasite to "correct" them."

Beales admits that hers is only a theory. "It's a long way from proposing something on paper to trying it out in humans." She hopes that those who attend the BCBGC-08 conference will be interested in helping her further her work. She cautions that people shouldn't go out and try to infect themselves. "We're talking about very specific worms, and in very careful "doses." So for a stomach ache or a cold this isn't going to help you any more than eating gummi worms will."

Donna Beales, MLIS, is the Health and Science Librarian at Lowell General Hospital, an independent community hospital in Lowell Massachusetts. For more information, visit www.lowellgeneral.org.

 

 

 

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