Wednesday, February 15, 2012

In a Squeaky-Clean World, a Worm Might Help Fight Disease

Some bugs are good for our health, and a pig parasite called the whipworm appears to be one of them.
Whipworm eggs have been found in human studies to reduce symptoms in a host of diseases that affect the immune system. Researchers at several universities have shown promising results in small numbers of patients with multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. Biotechnology companies are conducting large clinical trials of the treatment. Other studies targeting rheumatoid arthritis, autism and some allergies are expected to begin this year.
The introduction of the whipworm appears to spur the body to produce more of a different type of helpful immune cell—T2 helper cytokines—as a defense against the worms. This separate immune response appears to help counter the inflammatory response from diseases, say researchers

Dr. Summers and his colleagues demonstrated encouraging findings in two studies published in 2005. One examined 29 patients with Crohn's disease and found that after six months, 21 were considered remitted. (There wasn't a control group for comparison.) The other was study of 54 patients with ulcerative colitis. Patients who received TSO treatment improved significantly more than those who got placebo.
Another area of interest for TSO researchers is in multiple sclerosis, with two small studies published last year. One of these, published in the Multiple Sclerosis Journal, showed brain lesions decreased in four of five patients three months into treatment, and rebounded two months after it ended.
Some researchers say the therapy could hold promise for autism as well.

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