Part of the show Cybernetics and Computer Vision
Researchers have stumbled upon a possible new treatment for the inflammatory intestinal condition Crohn's disease - a dose of worms ! The immune systems of patients with Crohn's are thought to be over-reacting to the good bacteria in the intestine, producing painful and recurrent inflammation, ulceration, weight loss and intestinal obstruction. The disease tends to be much more common in the developed world than in the third world, where most people carry intestinal parasites such as worms, leading doctors to speculate that worms in some way help to damp-down the immune response in the gut. So, over a 6 month period, doctors gave 29 volunteers with Crohn's disease regular doses of the eggs of a species of worm, called Trichuris suis, that normally infects pigs. After 12 weeks of worm therapy, 19 of the patients were completely free of Crohn's symptoms. By the end of the study, 80% of the patients had responded to the therapy, and 73% had gone into remission and were symptom free. No one in the study developed any side effects. The benefit of using pig worms is that once they hatch the worms remain in the bowel without invading other parts of the body, and the eggs don't pose a threat to other people because they need to be incubated in soil for at least a week before they can colonise another person. The authors suggest that the worms are producing factors which help to suppress the over-activity of the immune system in the bowel, and that worm-therapy might be a simple alternative, or even addition, to Crohn's therapy in future.