Previous studies in which a small number of which participants with coeliac disease deliberately infected themselves with hookworms showed this treatment successfully alleviated the symptoms of the condition. A greater number of participants will soon be recruited for a multi-centre study being led by James Cook University to allow study of the mechanisms by which the worms control the immune response.
After the earlier, smaller study, which ended in 2013, all of the participants opted not to take medication to kill their parasites. Follow-up of these participants in 2016 showed all of them are still infected. While the results were positive, another larger study is needed to more conclusively show that the worms have a therapeutic effect. Additionally, the new study, involving 60 people, will be a double-blind two-year trial including a group who get a placebo, a group with 40 worms and another with 20 worms.
The hookworms could survive in the human gut by reducing the body’s immune response, which appears to also minimise the response to gluten in those with coeliac disease, which is an autoimmune disorder.
The trials – supported by an Advance Queensland Research Fellowship plus funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council, Coeliac Australia, The Prince Charles Hospital Foundation and the AITHM – will be conducted at The Prince Charles Hospital in Brisbane, Logan Hospital, Townsville Hospital and New Zealand’s Christchurch Hospital.
It is hoped this research will ultimately lead to the development of a pill to treat coeliac disease, in order to ensure control and management of hookworm infections.