Treating Bowel Disease with Parasitic Worms: A Disconcerting but Potentially Effective Approach for Ulcerative Colitis Patients

2023-06-20 15:07:30

Treating bowel disease by ingesting parasitic worms, a disconcerting therapeutic approach. Still, scientists think it could help people with ulcerative colitis.

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It is estimated that around 600 million people in the world are infested with hookworms, parasitic worms that settle in the intestines, especially of the population of poor countries in tropical regions. However, New Zealand researchers believe that swallowing a small amount could be beneficial for people with ulcerative colitis. In their pilot study published in Inflammatory Bowel Diseasesthey gave half of the 20 volunteers a capsule containing 30 hookworm larvae (American killers) while the other half received a placebo. How did their state of health evolve after one year of follow-up?

Parasitic worms that heal the intestine?

The parasitic worms grew well in the intestines of the volunteers since the scientists found eggs in their stools, but they failed to drastically change the patients’ health status. Indeed, 40% of infected patients are in clinical remission one year later; it’s 50% for the placebo group. No significant effect on this specific parameter. Because it is a chronic condition, patients with ulcerative colitis may remain in remission for several months until symptoms return in an attack or flare-up. Medications are available to prevent these painful attacks which decrease the quality of life of patients. Parasitic worms did not significantly reduce the time between attacks compared to placebo.

But scientists remain confident despite the mixed results obtained at the end of this very small study. ” One of the key points of the study is that a single dose of hookworm can stay in the body for years, if not longer. This means that if hookworms are effective in preventing relapses, you may become infected and potentially no longer need daily treatment. […] I think that’s where the strength of this approach lies. », explain Thomas Mule, first author of the study.

If the infestation by worms was well tolerated, with inconvenience appearing about six to eight weeks after the start of the experiment and which disappeared several weeks later, it is still necessary to prove their effectiveness in a study at larger scale.

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