Treating celiac with Hookworms — Again!

by | G+ Amy Leger
Microscopic Hookworm Courtesy: CDC

Microscopic Hookworm Courtesy: CDC

Hookworms, a parasite, are actually the focus of new research in Australia — again!  Research conducted out of James Cook University in Australia says there are promising results in treating celiac with hookworms.

According to the JCU’s media report about the study published last week,  researchers infected 12 patients with hookworm over a year’s time.   Then they started feeding them increasing amounts of gluten (one-tenth of a gram — equivalent to two centimeters of a spaghetti noodle) per day to gauge their reaction.   Researchers said by the time they were done with the study, 8 of the 12 were eating a medium bowl of gluten-filled noodles with no adverse reactions. 

“That’s a meal that would usually trigger a debilitating inflammatory response, leaving a coeliac [sic] patient suffering symptoms like diarrhoea [sic], cramps and vomiting,” said Paul Giacomin, James Cook University (JCU) immunologist.  Overall, the hookworm appears to turn a pro-inflammatory response to an anti-inflammatory response in this study.

If this ever becomes a treatment for celiac someday, doctors think it would become a protein pill of some sort. They would not actually insert the hookworm into the body.

Not the first time…

Now if you think it is disturbing that this study is going on…This is NOT the first time hookworm has been investigated to help study treatments for celiac.  I actually covered a similar story, also out of Australia, in October of 2009.  Worming their way to Celiac Treatment?  reported on a study out of Brisbane that suspected the worm helped alter the immune system in people with asthma, multiple sclerosis and even celiac disease.

The article quoted Dr. James Daveson from Brisbane saying,  “They enter through the skin and end up in the small bowel and that transit is protected. And we think we’ve co-evolved with them over millions of years and have a synergistic relationship with them and by removing them, which we’ve done over the last two to three generations, we’ve increased our risk of auto-immune diseases.” 

So will a hookworm treatment be in our future?  That remains to be seen.  But we’ll keep watching for updates! Of course right now the only treatment for celiac disease is 100% adherence to the gluten-free diet. 

Source:  Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology

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2 Responses to “Treating celiac with Hookworms — Again!”

  1. Hell no, that is all I have to say, I’ll stick with eating healthy and being as careful as I possibly can.

  2. I am very sceptical. For a start a sample of 12 reducing to 8 is tiny and that’s a 33% drop out rate. If they’d said 800 or 8000 I’d be more impressed. Secondly they only looked at gut symptoms and didn’t measure all consequences of CD such as reduced absorption of micronutrients, nerve damage, lactose intolerance – so no blood assays, monitoring of vitamin d levels, lung capacity measures etc. Thirdly they didn’t measure for unwanted side effects of hookworm infestation – if these are miracle cures why are scientists trying to develop a vaccine to immunise vast numbers of people in the 3rd world against them. Finally, what’s the plan for long term follow up of the 8 brave people who chose to keep their new symbiotic friends? It also sounds dangerous practice to let people just go off and spread them around in the population.

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