Pig Whipworms Studied To Help People With Crohn's Disease

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - A potential new treatment for Crohn's disease might sound a bit squeamish. Researchers are testing whether microscopic eggs of the pig whipworm parasite can help the half million Americans living with Crohn's.

Dr. Curtis Baum of the Cotton-O'Neil Digestive Health Center in Topeka says, in Crohn's, there is an inflammation that can involve the small intestine or colon. Tesearchers are studying whether a microscopic parasite can make a big difference in the abdominal pain, diarrhea and other symptoms that result from Crohn's.

The reasoning behind why it might work stems from what's called the "hygiene hypothesis." Some immune disorders like Crohn's are unheard of in developing countries. As hygiene has improved, the theory goes, people's immune systems have become naive to infections that protect us from those diseases.

Researchers looked for a parasite that would not harm humans, but help those diseases. They found the pig whipworm.

Dr. Bause says the parasite, which he stresses does not cause disease in humans, elicits an immune response that then results in a reduction or possibly elimination of the immune response that leads to Crohn's.

While the thought of purposely ingesting a parasite might make some squeamish, the process isn't as obvious as sitting down to a bowl full of worms. Dr. Baum says the worms are in a microscopic larval stage and suspended in a small amount of salt water with about 7500 of them in a small dose. Study participants take a dose every two weeks for twelve weeks.

Dr. Baum says the larvae cannot be seen, tasted or felt. He says they hatch and elicit the immune response and will not be visible as they pass through the gastrointestinal tract.

The bonus, he says, is that there don't appear to be any side effects. Compared to steroids and other drugs, Dr. Baum says, this would be a way of treating people with very little downside.

The Cotton-O'Neil Digestive Health Center is among 15 study sites. The goal is to collectively enroll 220 participants. The total length of the study is 13 months.

People interested in learning further details or to see if they qualify should contact the Cotton-O'Neil Digestive Health Center at 785-270-4896 and ask for Kris in research.


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