The molecule, ES-62, already circulates in the blood of millions of people infected with the worms in the Tropics.
It prevents the massive inflammatory response that the worms are otherwise capable of producing in conditions such as elephantiasis.
The Universities of Glasgow and Strathclyde will carry out the project.
They aim to produce a synthetic derivative of ES-62 which could be used to develop new drugs to combat rheumatoid arthritis.
They also hope the same approach could ultimately be fine-tuned to treat other types of auto-immune diseases, using cocktails of several ES-62 derived drugs.
ES-62 has no known adverse effect on general health, nor does it inhibit the ability of infected people to fight other infections.
Researcher Professor William Harnett said: “We will be focusing on mechanisms of combating hyper-inflammation that have developed naturally and with apparent acceptance by humans during their co-evolution with parasites.”
Professor Iain McInnes, who will also be working on the project, said: “ES-62 appears to act like a thermostat to effectively turn down disease-causing inflammation which leaves essential defence mechanisms intact to fight infection and cancer.
“This property also makes ES-62 a unique tool for scientists to identify how such disease-causing inflammation occurs.”
A spokeswoman for the Arthritis Research Campaign, which is funding the work, said new treatments to tackle the painful inflammatory effects of conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis were much-needed.
She said: “Despite the advent of new classes of drugs such as anti-TNF therapy, there are many people whose arthritis is not under control, and this is an exciting, and novel piece of research which may lead to new, more effective treatments.”
Rheumatoid arthritis is a potentially crippling joint disease, caused by the body’s immune system attacking itself, leading to inflammation in the joints and internal organs such as the heart and lungs.
It affects around 400,000 people in the UK. Women sufferers outnumber men by three to one.
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Sources: BBC NEWS:September 16. ’08