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Scientists aim to treat autoimmune diseases with worm-based therapy

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Written by Jessica Ryen Doyle

For more than 20 years, scientists have been studying the theory of the hygiene hypothesis – the idea that organisms we might consider dangerous today were actually protecting our immune systems before modern medicine existed.

In the 19th century, autoimmune diseases – like Crohn’s, multiple sclerosis and type 1 diabetes – were virtually non-existent. Since people didn’t frequently bathe or wash their hands as often (nor was hand sanitizer around), the filth actually activated an immune response. Subsequently, those who live in third-world countries also have a lower rate of developing these sorts of diseases.

Scientists at Coronado Biosciences are using immunotherapy biologic agents to treat autoimmune diseases, including helminthic therapy, the use of parasitic worms to modulate the immune system. They’ve seen the success the therapy has had on patients suffering from Crohn’s disease, so they’ve started three trials in which they hope to prevent and treat type 1 diabetes using Trichuris suis ova (TSO), or the eggs of a pig whipworm.

“We give them in a solution, so it’s essentially a liquid that is a saline solution, and these eggs are microscopic; you can’t see them – they are odorless, tasteless,” Dr. Karin Hehenberger, chief medical officer of Coronado Biosciences, told FoxNews.com.

Type 1 diabetes is a chronic disease, typically diagnosed in children and adolescents. The condition is marked by high levels of sugar in the blood, caused when beta cells in the pancreas produce little to no insulin – the body’s blood sugar regulator.
Symptoms include being very thirsty and/or hungry, feeling tired and having blurry eyesight, among other things.

Hehenberger said having the whipworm ova in a diabetic’s body could reset his or her immune system, much like it does for Crohn’s patients.

“You’re resetting the balance so that instead of attacking itself, the immune system is attacking what it’s supposed to attack, which is outside bacteria,” she said.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.