Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Helminthic therapy?? - The Worms Crawl In....

My allergies have been so bad recently that I think I might actually consider something like this...

From the New York Times:

While carrying out field work in Papua New Guinea in the late 1980s, he [David Pritchard] noticed that Papuans infected with the Necator americanus hookworm, a parasite that lives in the human gut, did not suffer much from an assortment of autoimmune-related illnesses, including hay fever and asthma. Over the years, Dr. Pritchard has developed a theory to explain the phenomenon.

“The allergic response evolved to help expel parasites, and we think the worms have found a way of switching off the immune system in order to survive,” he said. “That’s why infected people have fewer allergic symptoms.”...

...Nearly 20 years later, his musing began to come to fruition. After Dr. Pritchard’s self-infection experiment, the National Health Services ethics committee let him conduct a study in 2006 with 30 participants, 15 of whom received 10 hookworms each. Tests showed that after six weeks, the T-cells of the 15 worm recipients began to produce lower levels of chemicals associated with inflammatory response, indicating that their immune systems were more suppressed than those of the 15 placebo recipients. Despite playing host to small numbers of parasites, worm recipients reported little discomfort.

Trial participants raved about their allergy symptoms disappearing. Word about the study soon appeared online among chronic allergy sufferers, and a Yahoo group on “helminthic therapy” sprung up.

“Many of the people who were given a placebo have requested worms, and many of the people with worms have elected to keep them,” Dr. Pritchard said.

Now he is recruiting patients for a larger-scale trial of the therapy, and he said he hoped to publish his results within the next year.

Some allergy sufferers cannot wait. The moderator of the Yahoo group, Jasper Lawrence, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, has started a clinic in Mexico, to offer the unproven therapy (a basic worm “inoculation” costs $3,900). ...

...“I [Pritchard ] gave myself 50 worms, and I felt it,” he recounted. “I had stomach pains and diarrhea. But with 10 worms, we’ve ascertained a dose that does not cause symptoms. The patients are happy. They’ve kept their worms, and I get an e-mail a day from people all over the world who want to be infected.

Thanks to Heather for pointing this one out

6 comments:

Laura said...

If you had a parasite, what would you name it? This is something I think about quite frequently - my top name is Herman.

ReBecca said...

No t sure - Maybe Bob. Or Jo. Or Tom. But if I had 10 of them that opens the door to plenty of names! Herman is a good one though. I guess I could name them after human parasites I know, but this is probably not the place to discuss that.....

geobabe said...

ick. i would rather have the allergies!

Silver Fox said...

Yikes!

Anonymous said...

I would name one MUSHI.

JasperLawrence said...

I hope you would name it after me, Jasper.

One of our juvenile clients named them after Star Wars characters, an adult named the first three after her favorite authors.

But all joking aside this therapy works, and for those of you who are repulsed, as I was, when you first consider it you need to read the science. There is an awful lot of it out there supporting this approach.

I am going to go out on a limb and predict that within a generation some form of this therapy will be commonly available. Because it isn't just allergies it is all the modern diseases that involve inflammation or immune dysregulation that are potential targets for helminthic therapy.

It works more often than not, and if you had as bad allergies, asthma or whatever as I did or as my clients have you would probably be very receptive to this approach.