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Ever increasing antimicrobial drug resistance currently causes enormous concern in global health care, in particular because new antibiotics are being developed less and less frequently. At the same time, we understand our immune system increasingly well and also, why certain humans are naturally protected against certain infectious diseases. Maybe, one should exploit such insights more vigorously for the development of new antimicrobial drugs, namely compounds, which manipulate the immune responses of susceptible humans such that they react like the immune system of those who are protected by nature. These kinds of drugs do exist already, mostly to treat autoimmune diseases. They are called immune modulators. And there are reasons to assume that infectious agents would have a much harder time to become resistant against such compounds.
More than one third of the world’s population is infected with the tubercle bacteria, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, but only a small proportion of them fall sick. Little is known about the protective factors. Twin studies have shown, however, that the genetic make-up plays a pivotal role. In a Ghanaian population, we have extensively studied the genes coding for proteins, which recognise infectious agents on the surface of immune cells.
Nearly one third of the world’s population is infected with parasitic worms. The worm Strongyloides ratti parasitizes in the intestines of rats. Laboratory mice are also susceptible and serve as a model for human infections. Like in humans, larvae of S. rattiinvade through the skin and may migrate through connective tissues and the lung to the intestine where they develop into adult worms.
It is well known that our immune system can build up partial immunity against repeated malaria attacks. But there is also evidence indicating that the immune response may as well contribute to the development of life-threatening Plasmodium falciparum infections