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Could Hookworm Infections Help Cure Celiac Disease?
Celiac.com 11/16/2009 - Could unknown benefits from one of the oldest parasites of the human digestive tract hold the key to cure for celiac disease?
Australian scientists think so. Encouraged by successful treatments of Crohn's and ulcerative colitis by American researchers using a pig whipworm (Trichuris sues), a team of Australian researchers is recruiting volunteers with celiac disease for trials using human hookworm (Necator americanus).
The researchers have undertaken a similar preliminary study using a human hookworm in Crohn's patients.
Researchers hypothesize that the disappearance of intestinal parasites from humans in developed countries may be responsible for the upsurge in many diseases including Celiac Disease, Crohn's, ulcerative colitis, asthma and hay fever.
Using a small group of healthy people with celiac disease, the investigators will look to see if human hookworm interferes with the human immune reaction to gluten.
Parasites survive partly by interfering with the host's immune response. The mechanisms they use to accomplish this are similar to those required by a person to regulate against the so-called autoimmune disorders, wherein the body begins to fight against itself.
The investigators suspect that when parasites are excluded from the environment, some individuals become sufficiently self-reactive to develop an autoimmune disease.
Using a small group of healthy people with celiac disease, the investigators will test if a human hookworm, Necator americanus, inhibits immune responsiveness to gluten.
Specifically, they will examine whether hookworm infection will change the immune processes and suppress gluten sensitivity in people with celiac disease.
Celiac disease is a good model for studying Crohn's disease because both involve similar immune changes. However, celiac patients are usually healthier overall, and, importantly, are not taking powerful immune suppressive drugs, and the provocative antigens (molecules that engage the immune system and provoke the disease) are well known and can be administered or cut out at will.
In addition to directly benefitting celiac disease sufferers, this study may provide potential guidance in the use of hookworms to control inflammatory bowel disease.
The study is open to people with proven celiac disease who reside in Brisbane, Australia. Those who enroll will be required to avoid gluten for six months.
The blinded study will compare disease activity and immunity after a controlled break from the gluten-free diet in celiac patients, before and after hookworm infection.
The team will use conventional and experimental methods to examine the disease severity and the immune system of celiac subjects before and after being inoculated with N. americanus.
They will then compare immunity levels of the study subjects
against those of matched, celiac control subjects (not infected with hookworm), before and after eating four pieces of standard white bread each day for three to five days.
The initial study group will be small. The researchers will recruit ten subjects for each arm of the study, for a total of twenty.
Initially, ten larvae will be placed on the skin under a light dressing for thirty minutes, followed by five more after twelve weeks.
The researchers intend to asses whether the hookworm infection will change the immune processes and suppress gluten sensitivity in people with celiac disease. Outcomes to be measured will be those that reflect the activity of celiac disease.
Stay tuned to see if hookworm therapy will be coming to a gastroenterologist near you! Tell us what you think. Would you sign up? Comment below.
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Jefferson Adams is a freelance writer living in San Francisco. His poems, essays and photographs have appeared in Antioch Review, Blue Mesa Review, CALIBAN, Hayden's Ferry Review, Huffington Post, the Mississippi Review, and Slate among others.
He is a member of both the National Writers Union, the International Federation of Journalists, and covers San Francisco Health News for Examiner.com.View all articles by Jefferson Adams
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