A few gut parasites could do you the world of good

gs designed to dampen down the immune system had not helped. Working with his colleagues David Elliott and Robert Summers, Weinstock gave each patient a drink containing microscopic eggs of a species of intestinal worm that doesn't normally infect people. Although these worms can survive in the human gut, growing to about 1 centimetre, they cannot reproduce and are eliminated after a couple of months.

Balfour Sartor, an expert on inflammatory bowel disease at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, is intrigued by Weinstock's experiment. "It's an appealing way of using something that's of fairly low toxicity to treat a set of diseases that for now we don't have a cure for," he says. Sartor is himself experimenting with Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium gut bacteria, again with the idea that they may have dampening effects on the immune system.

However, there is still a long way to go before doses of worms or bacteria emerge as an accepted treatment for inflammatory bowel disease. Larger controlled trials are needed to show that the results obtained so far aren't merely due to the placebo effect.


Contact: Claire Bowles
New Scientist

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