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Helminths for health?

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Worm therapy, or more correctly, helminthic therapy, involves the use of parasitic worms to ease the symptoms of autoimmune disease, and is derived from an idea known as the hygiene hypothesis. The hygiene hypothesis suggests that a lack of exposure to infectious agents and parasites in the developed world, due to increased hygiene and medical treatment, has led to an increase in autoimmune diseases. It is suggested that parasites, in particular helminths, have affected the evolution of parts of the human immune system and that their absence is partly responsible for the increase in incidence of autoimmune diseases in industrialised countries in the past century.

In helminthic therapy, humans are deliberately infected with the ova of non-human parasites, most commonly Trichuris suis, a porcine whipworm that cannot survive for lengthy periods in the human gut. Studies are under way using live worms to treat a range of inflammatory diseases and autoimmune disorders, including Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis and asthma.

Results of research involving mice infected with human hookworm larvae, published in the January issue of Nature Medicine, carried out at the University of New Jersey, have suggested that the worm can trigger a wound-healing response that could replace or augment drug treatment in humans.

Part of the worm’s complex life cycle involves it being transported via the circulatory system to the lungs, where it burrows out through the trachea, causing acute tissue damage to the lungs, before being swallowed in the oesophagus. Exposure of the host to the hookworm causes the production of cytokines which stimulate inflammation, growth factor steroid production, and the migration of white blood cells, which quickly repair the damaged tissue.

It is hoped that this research may lead to new treatments for lung damage caused by diseases such as pneumonia.

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From: Beyond pharmacy blog

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