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Hookworms may help patients with coeliac disease

October 23rd, 2011

Hookworms may provide a key to treating coeliac disease, according to research undertaken in Australia

Persons with Coeliac disease cannot tolerate the wheat protein, gluten, in their diet. This is a challenge as they cannot eat regular bread, pasta, and even some medications. The study found that infection with a common species of hookworm (necator americanus, NA), was safely and successfully tolerated without any sustained ill effect by participants with histologically confirmed coeliac disease.

Ten participants received infective NA larvae into their skin and 10 received placebo, after which they were given a gluten challenge.

The larvae travel through the skin into the gut. After the gluten being administered, there was a significant deterioration in symptoms scores and overall well-being in the PLACEBO group, and the Marsh scores deteriorated in 90% of the placebo group (p<0.05) but not in the hookworm infected group.

Lead author Dr James Davison said he believed the process of having the worms burrow through the skin began a complex immunomodulatory response. He added that none of the patients involved in the study seemed to mind being infected with hookworm. When it came to the end of the trial and we offered them drugs to kill the hookworm, they didn’t want to take them. More research will be undertaken on this intriguing finding.

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