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Immune Dysfunction and Evolutionary Mismatch Laboratory

Photo of William Parker, PhD

William Parker, PhD

Office: 487 Med Sci Res Bldg, Durham, NC 27710
Campus Mail: Box 2605 Med Ctr, Durham, NC 27710
Phone: 919-681-3886

Scientific Focus

The primary focus of our laboratory, directed by William Parker, deals with the concept of “evolutionary mismatch” and how that affects immune function in the modern world. An evolutionary mismatch is simply described as a condition in which an organism’s current environment leads to disease because it does not match the environment which drove the evolution of that organism’s genes. Evolutionary mismatches in Western countries lead to a variety of consequences, including sedentary lifestyles, vitamin D deficiency, chronic psychological stress, and inflammatory diets, which in turn lead to inflammatory diseases. We are interested in normalizing immune function in Western society, in particular by dealing with one of the most profound and impactful consequences of evolutionary mismatch, “biome depletion”.   Topics of our research, within the context described above, are as follows:

  • Biome depletion, the loss of biodiversity from the ecosystem of the human body.
  • Gut function and the gut-brain barrier.
  • The induction of autism.
  • Cardiovascular disease

The laboratory also has a long standing and productive collaboration with Shu Lin, a thoracic surgeon at Duke. In addition to our work on immune function and evolutionary mismatch, we are continually involved with work on Dr. Lin’s projects.

Selected Achievements

The laboratory is most widely known for its discovery of the apparent function of the human appendix. The laboratory is also known for its leadership in understanding immune function in wild rodents, and how that function contrasts with immune function in laboratory animals. More recently, the laboratory has become a leader in understanding the effects of helminths (intestinal worms) on improving immune function in humans.  Several collaborative projects using laboratory animal models in neurobiology (with Staci Bilbo) and using socio-medical studies in humans (with Janet Wilson) have yielded exciting results, pointing toward the idea that healthy neuropsychiatric function can be achieved by adding organisms to the gut that are recently absent following hundreds of millions of years of symbiosis with our ancestors. Based on data obtained thus far, neuropsychiatric conditions that may be treated with “helminthic therapy” include migraine headaches, anxiety disorders, and depression.  

At the same time, we have confirmed that helminths can be used to treat a wide range of modern inflammatory diseases, including autoimmune disorders such as multiple sclerosis and allergic conditions such as hayfever and peanut allergies.

Advanced Training

The laboratory has worked with a wide range of students since 1994, including high school students, undergraduates, and a variety of more advanced students. Projects are tailored to each student’s or trainee’s needs, duration of association with the laboratory, and experience.

Contact Us

If you have questions regarding our laboratory, please contact William Parker at 919-681-3886 or at

Latest Publications

Scheuermann, U, Zhu, M, Song, M, Yerxa, J, Gao, Q, Davis, RP, Zhang, M, Parker, W, Hartwig, MG, Kwun, J, Brennan, TV, Lee, J, and Barbas, AS. "Damage-Associated Molecular Patterns Induce Inflammatory Injury During Machine Preservation of the Liver: Potential Targets to Enhance a Promising Technology." Liver Transplantation : Official Publication of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases and the International Liver Transplantation Society 25, no. 4 (April 2019): 610-626.

Full Text

Ren, L, Holzknecht, RA, Holzknecht, ZE, Kotzé, SH, Bowles, DE, Lin, SS, McKenney, EA, and Parker, W. "A mole rat's gut microbiota suggests selective influence of diet on microbial niche space and evolution." Experimental Biology and Medicine (Maywood, N.J.) (February 13, 2019): 1535370219828703-null.

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Chang, J-C, Finn, SM, Davis, RP, Sanders, NL, Holzknecht, ZE, Everett, ML, Barbas, AS, Parker, W, and Lin, SS. "Early Immune Response to Acute Gastric Fluid Aspiration in a Rat Model of Lung Transplantation." Experimental and Clinical Transplantation : Official Journal of the Middle East Society for Organ Transplantation 17, no. 1 (February 2019): 84-92.

Full Text

Scheuermann, U, Zhu, M, Song, M, Yerxa, J, Gao, Q, Davis, R, Zhang, M, Parker, W, Hartwig, M, Brennan, T, Kwun, J, Lee, J, and Barbas, A. "DAMP Release and Inflammasome Activation during Machine Preservation of the Liver." 19th Annual State of the Art Winter Symposium of the American-Society-of-Transplant-Surgeons (ASTS). Miami, FL. January 10, 2019 - January 13, 2019.: WILEY, January 1, 2019.