Research is testing whether parasites can actually help inflammatory bowel disease.
Could swallowing the eggs of a parasitic worm help treat a disease?
It might just work in some cases, according to the work of P’ng Loke and Ken Cadwell, two researchers at New York University who study parasites and the immune system.
Several years ago, Loke got an intriguing phone call from a man with inflammatory bowel disease. It’s an extremely unpleasant illness. Symptoms include chronic painful abdominal cramps, diarrhea and fatigue.
The man told Loke that he had become so desperate that he had undergone a risky treatment in Thailand. It involved swallowing worm eggs and letting the worms, or helminths, hatch in his gut.
“When I heard what he had done, I thought he was crazy,” says Loke. But it wasn’t quite as crazy as it sounded at first. There had been previous work, including reports from the University of Iowa, that showed people got relief from doing this.
Mild infections with worms can go largely unnoticed. People with more serious infections can have bloody stools and other symptoms.
After hearing about the man’s trip to Thailand, Loke and Cadwell decided to investigate.