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Parasitic worm ova therapy focuses on autoimmune diseases

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, Crohn's disease, autism, Trichuris suis

Researchers at Coronado Biosciences (Burlington, Massachusetts) are actively engaged in research for the treatment of autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, type 1 diabetes, and multiple sclerosis. They are also conducting research for cancer and autism. Surprisingly, their research focus employs the use of Trichuris suis ova (TSO), or the eggs of a pig whipworm.

The researchers are studying the theory of the hygiene hypothesis: the concept is that organisms we might consider dangerous today were actually protecting our immune systems before modern medicine existed. They note that in the 19th century, autoimmune diseases were virtually non-existent. Since people didn’t frequently bathe or wash their hands as often, the filth actually activated an immune response. As further support of their hypothesis, the researchers note that individuals who live in undeveloped nations have a lower rate of developing these types of diseases.

TSO causes disease in pigs; however, they are harmless to humans. They survive for only two weeks; during that time they stimulate the body’s immune response. The rationale behind the treatment is that it resets the balance of the immune system. Instead of attacking itself, the immune system is attacking what it is supposed to attack: outside bacteria. The microscopic whipworm eggs are retrieved from pig feces and sanitized. They are then placed in a saline solution that is odorless and tasteless. Because the eggs only survive two weeks, the treatment has to be repeated every two weeks.

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Type 1 diabetes is a chronic disease, which usually occurs 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). Three different clinical trials are ongoing at Coronado Biosciences for type 1 diabetes: two for prevention and one in intervention. The first two studies identify young people and children at risk for type 1 diabetes. For part of the study, the researchers are hoping to reset the immune system before the disease can occur. In a separate trial, they will look at children and adults who were recently diagnosed with the disease and try to prevent further destruction; thus, reducing the person’s dependency on insulin.

Another clinical trial is underway at Coronado Biosciences underway in collaboration with Montefiore Medical Center at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. The focus is to measure the effects of infecting autistic patients with TSO. The hope is that the ova will dampen their immune responses and ameliorate repetitive and irritable behaviors.

Another clinical trial at Coronado Biosciences is designed to treat Crohn’s disease. The company plans to enroll 220 patients with the condition in a mid-stage clinical trial. The study participants will receive either a dose with 7,500 eggs from a pig whipworm or a placebo once every two weeks for 12 weeks. In addition, Coronado’s partner, German pharmaceutical manufacturer Dr. Falk Pharma GmbH, is conducting a mid-stage trial of the drug, known as trichuris suis ova (TSO), in Europe. The two companies plan to share their results when filing for marketing approval in 2016 or 2017.

Reference: Coronado Biosciences

See also:
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