Scientist aim to treat autoimmune diseases with worm-based treatments

Interesting article I found that I have not heard anything about before:

"Scientists at Coronado Biosciences are using immunotherapy biologic agents to treat autoimmune diseases, including helminthic therapy, the use of parasitic worms to modulate the immune system. They’ve seen the success the therapy has had on patients suffering from Crohn’s disease, so they’ve started three trials in which they hope to prevent and treat type 1 diabetes using Trichuris suis ova (TSO), or the eggs of a pig whipworm.

We give them in a solution, so it’s essentially a liquid that is a saline solution, and these eggs are microscopic; you can’t see them – they are odorless, tasteless,” Dr. Karin Hehenberger, chief medical officer of Coronado Biosciences, told

“You’re resetting the balance so that instead of attacking itself, the immune system is attacking what it’s supposed to attack, which is outside bacteria,” she said.

Dr. Joel Weinstock, professor and director of gastroenterology at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, began using parasitic worms on mice with a vast array of medical problems in the 1990s: asthma, type 1 diabetes, MS and inflammatory bowel disease. He noticed the calming effect the parasites had on these animals’ immune systems.

He soon started a round of human trials, using TSO on Crohn’s patients, with successful results. A published study in 2005 reported 23 out of 29 Crohn’s patients went into remission.

The one caveat: The worms can only stay alive in a human host for about two weeks, so the patients would have to take the TSO-based therapy bi-weekly.

The first two studies identify young people and children at risk for type 1 diabetes. For part of the study, scientists are hoping to reset the immune system before the disease can occur. In a separate trial, they will look at children and adults who were recently diagnosed with the disease and try to prevent further destruction, thus reducing the person’s dependency on insulin.

“The good thing about our product TSO is that the human is not the natural host,” Hehenberger said. “It is the pig that is the natural host, so in the human, there’s only a short lifespan, and that’s why these larvae do not develop into full-blown reproductive worms. They cannot produce additional ova, they cannot grow or colonize the intestine.”

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Dan Hurley, in his most excellent book, 'Diabetes Rising', spends several pages discussing this topic. Chapter 9 of his book is called 'The Hygiene Hypothesis' - subtitled 'The Icky Benefits of Dirt, Germs and Worms'.

Dr. Weinstock was quoted as saying "There's an inverse relationship between worming and these immune diseases. Everybody had worms in their GI tract in the 19th century. They were universal. What we successfully did through modern hygiene is we successfully eliminated exposure to intestinal worms....As it turns out, worms are very, very powerful inducers of immune regulation...

"In the process of developing good hygiene practices to protect us from the fifty or so organisms that do us harm, we've deprived ourselves of organisms that do us no harm, and actually help us."

Hurley continued the interview and stated that "While bacteria and viruses help to 'educate' the regulatory immune system, intestinal worms [Weinstock] stated 'are probably the most powerful stimulators of our regulatory immune system....That's why deworming the entire population may have had major consequences.'"

It's a fascinating subject to me. When I was a kid, I used to have to slop the hogs. I'd do it barefoot, and wound up getting worms through the bottom of my feet, and my whole family (7 of us) had to be de-wormed (boy, everybody was pissed!). But, 25 or so years later, I still developed type 1.

The book, by the way, is a fascinating read. It's mostly geared toward type 1, but also speaks at length about the meteoric rise in type 2. I highly recommend it.


It is an interesting idea that I have never considered before this week. The de-worming of our society has certainly eliminated deaths and disease. But, we may be the unlucky few that "caught" T1 due to this de-worming?

Would you be willing to swallow some worm eggs every other week for increased pancreatic insulin function? I would!

Found associated Video, 9.5 minutes in length:

Interestingly the interviewee, Dr. Karin Hehenberger, chief medical officer of Coronado Biosciences, gets a little into her personal history. She was diagnosed T1 at the age of 16. Twenty-some years later she devleoped kidney problems and had a kidney and pancreas transplant. I think it is awesome having a T1 researching T1!

There are related stories on this regarding asthma.

For example:

One guy couldn't get treatment in the US and was so convinced of the benefit of worms
that he flew to a remote African village known to be worm infected and walked barefoot
on the spot the villagers used to defecate to infect himself. He claims to have gotten relief.