By Allergen Bureau

Can medicines replace hookworms to treat coeliac disease?

The use of hookworms to treat coeliac disease has been a promising field of study for over a decade. Researchers at Queensland’s James Cook University have secured funding from Coeliac Australia to build on their findings from recent clinical trials.

In the latest placebo-controlled trial, 54 participants with coeliac disease were randomly assigned two treatments, 8 weeks apart, of 0 (control), 10 or 20 hookworms. One month after the final dose, participants started consuming gluten-containing foods. Coeliac symptoms were clearly lessened in those with hookworms, indicating potential protection from low levels of gluten contamination in a gluten-free diet.

Proteins released by hookworms are known to suppress the body’s immune response and are thought to be involved in the mechanism by which the parasites reduce the symptoms of coeliac disease. The investigators now aim to isolate the proteins, with a view to creating a synthetic version that could be taken as a medication so that people are not having to be infected by parasites.

The new work funded by Coeliac Australia will also explore the beneficial changes caused by hookworms in the balance of healthy and unhealthy microbes in the gut. 

More details about the funded study and links to published findings from the clinical trial can be found on the Coeliac Australia website.