Patient treated his bowel disease with parasitic worm eggs

In the “I-can’t-believe-it’s-true” category, the Los Angeles Times “Booster Shots” blog reported, “For several decades, researchers have argued that the growing incidence of autoimmune disease in the developed world is the result of improved sanitation, which limits our exposure to infectious diseases during childhood.”

And, “in the 1990s, Dr. Joel Weinstock, then at the University of Iowa and now at Tufts University, observed that the eradication of intestinal worms in the developed world was followed soon after by a rise in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which now affects as many as one million Americans.”

But, a 34-year-old Northern California man with ulcerative colitis may have found a way to treat his condition: “parasitic worms.”

He “hopped a plane to Thailand to see a parasitologist – and then gulped down 1,500 parasitic worm eggs,” according to the MSNBC “Body Odd” blog.

“Turns out, the squirmy little worms did the trick to help soothe the man’s inflammatory bowel disease symptoms,” sparring him from having his colon surgically removed.

The case was detailed in Science Translational Medicine by New York University researchers who “analyzed slides and samples of the man’s blood and colon tissue from 2003, before he swallowed the eggs, to 2009, a few years after ingestion,” HealthDay reported.

“During this period, he was virtually symptom-free for almost three years,” but “when his colitis flared in 2008, he swallowed another 2,000 eggs and got better again.”

Samples “taken during active colitis showed a large number of CD4+ T-cells.” However, “tissue taken after worm therapy, when his colitis was in remission, contained lots of T-cells that make interleukin-22 (IL-22), a protein that promotes wound healing.”

The Trichuris trichiura worms “seemed to stimulate the production of mucus in the gut,” WebMD reported.

Lead investigator P’ng Loke, PhD, “and colleagues believe that the mucus is produced in an effort to expel the worms from the gut,” but “instead of doing this it heals the lesions caused by the disease.”

Dr. Loke noted, however, that the “patient was lucky … because the risks of deliberately colonizing the intestine with parasitic worms are not well understood.”

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel “Health & Science Today” blog also covered the story.

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