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Worms - a medical miracle for arthritis sufferers?

Posting in Technology

Pig parasites can dampen inflammation in people.

Sufferers of painful autoimmune diseases could soon be prescribed a ‘new' treatment that would effectively remodulate immune systems without involving potent biological drugs and the side effects that come with them. The patient just has to take a shot of pig worm eggs.

Biopharmaceutical company Coronado Biosciences is conducting clinical trials using the eggs of the pig whipworm to regulate immune activity. The treatment is centered on the "hygiene hypothesis," which asserts that today's sterile, germ-free homes can actually make us sick. Lack of exposure to pathogens could prevent immune systems from properly regulating, explained Dr. Bobby Sandage, CEO of Coronado.

Worms co-evolved with all animals, dating as far back as dinosaurs. Foreign bodies usually trigger an acute immune response when they infect animals, but the worms figured out a way to the dampen it, creating a potentially symbiotic relationship with the host organism. Anti-inflammatory cytokines - the messenger cells of the immune system - are created and produce a therapeutic response that could treat chronic diseases.

Pig parasites were chosen because they cannot thrive in the human body. The eggs remain solely in the GI tract and will eventually die out or be digested, Sandage said. There is no permanent infection, and there is little risk of transmitting the worms to another person. There's also little risk of the worms evolving, he noted.

"They can't be human parasites pathogen because those actually cause problems," Sandage said. As for drug delivery - you wouldn't need to swallow a handful of worms. Patients just drink a colorless, odorless, and tasteless solution. Today's most common biological drugs must be injected subcutaneously.

My autoimmune disease, which is similar to Rheumatoid Arthritis, began while I was a senior in high school. The treatments can be toxic and over the long term. Chugging down a whipworm shooter might sound odd, but is preferable to taking my medicines indefinitely because the drugs can carry risks of health problems.

I'm certain that many other autoimmune suffers would agree to at least try it, and hundreds already are.

Coronado is initially focusing on Crohn's disease, MS, type 1 diabetes, and ulcerative colitis. Clinical trials for autism and rheumatological diseases could follow. Phase II trials are underway for Crohn's, MS, and ulcerative colitis patients to determine the effectiveness of those treatments. Phase III trials could begin as soon as 2014, and the product could come to market as early as 2016-2017, Sandage said.

(Image credit: emax health)

— By on November 14, 2012, 9:26 AM PST

David Worthington

Contributing Editor

David Worthington has written for BetaNews, eWeek, PC World, Technologizer and ZDNet. Formerly, he was a senior editor at SD Times. He holds a business degree from Temple University. He is based in New York. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure