The Australian National Health and Medical Research Council has awarded more than $860,000 to researchers at the James Cook University to extend their study into the treatment of coeliac disease using hookworms. In an earlier pilot study, a smaller number of participants in the earlier trial were infected with 20 Necator americanus (hookworm) larvae, with results suggesting the parasite is effective in treating coeliac disease.
Forty participants will take part in the new trial, in which they will first be infected with the hookworm larvae and then gluten will gradually be reintroduced into their diet. Levels of ingested gluten will be elevated far above those in the pilot study as they progress towards eating a normal diet.
Scientists believe the hookworms secrete an anti-inflammatory protein that suppresses the inflammatory response to gluten experienced by people with coeliac disease.
While hookworms do not breed within the human body, meaning there is no chance of the parasite multiplying to dangerous numbers, infecting all coeliacs with hookworms is not the long-term goal for the researchers working in this area. Work will continue on identifying and isolating the anti-inflammatory protein, so that ultimately a pill-based medication can be developed to restore gluten tolerance.
The full press release can be accessed on the James Cook University website.