Can A Parasite Treat Autoimmune Disease?

August 29, 2012

A new drug is promising to treat some types of autoimmune disease. Parasite eggs normally found in pig feces are being packaged in a saline water pill and given to patients with Crohn’s Disease (an inflammatory condition of the gut) and Multiple Sclerosis.

Most parasites work by suppressing the immune system to one degree or another, and in fact, this isn’t the first time scientists have experimented with using worms to treat an autoimmune disease (allergies are also thought to be lessened by the presence of a parasite). What makes this treatment different is that the parasite used only survives in humans for as many as two weeks, rather than growing to a full-fledged worm which siphons nutrients and has the full complement of parasite side-effects.

Normally, autoimmune diseases are treated with drugs that suppress the immune system, with all the side-effects of medicines as well as the risk of developing a severe infection from having a suppressed immune system. The pig parasite does not appear to have the same level of immune system suppression, after all, it’s more beneficial to the parasites to keep the host alive, and the trials so far have not shown a risk of side-effects besides a few GI Tract discomforts that go away after a couple of days.

What’s more, because the parasite doesn’t survive in the human GI Tract, there’s little risk that it will evolve to something more harmful in humans or get into the water/ground and spread further.

And if you’re worried about its origins—researchers developed a way to clean the eggs before beginning trials.

Would you take a parasite to treat an autoimmune disease? Let us know what you think in the comments!

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