University of Iowa News Release
May 21, 2004
UI Study Finds Worm Eggs Help Patients With Severe Bowel Disorders
University of Iowa Health Care researchers reported important findings recently at a conference of specialists in New Orleans, La. The findings are from their study of helminthic therapy - using specially prepared worm eggs - to treat patients diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disorders that don't respond to standard treatments.
The UI researchers' work showed that helminthic therapy is promising in the treatment of patients diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease whose symptoms did not respond to current therapies.
"We were able to show that treating these patients with helminths appears to relieve symptoms and help control the disease. Also, they tolerate the treatments without experiencing side effects or complications," said Joel Weinstock, M.D. (left), UI professor of internal medicine and director of the Digestive Diseases Center at UI Hospitals and Clinics.
UI Health Care researchers reported this week on the outcome of a placebo-controlled, double blind study of 54 patients diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. The UI team also collaborated with other researchers in Europe and Canada.
David Elliott, M.D. (right), UI associate professor of internal medicine, conducted animal studies that played a key role in developing the therapy. He showed that exposure of mice to helminthic worms protected them from development of experimental inflammatory bowel disease.
Robert Summers, M.D. (left), UI professor of internal medicine, organized a clinical study to determine if a helminthic parasite could be given safely to patients with inflammatory bowel disease and help control the disease.
The UI researchers say more studies are needed before helminthic therapy can be provided on a widespread basis.
"We have more work to complete before this approach can be routinely used, but we are very encouraged by our results thus far," Weinstock said. "We may be on the verge of a new era in the treatment of these very serious disorders."
These studies were supported by the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America, the Broad Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.
The term inflammatory bowel disease refers to two conditions called ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. They are chronic inflammatory diseases of the intestines that cause abdominal pain, diarrhea and gastrointestinal bleeding. These diseases usually begin in people during their late teens to early twenties, and usually last a lifetime.
The frequency of Crohn's disease in the United States and Europe has increased substantially over the last 60 years. It is most prevalent in temperate regions that are highly industrialized. Both Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis are rare in less developed countries. These observations suggest that there is some critical environmental factor responsible for the development of inflammatory bowel disease. The Iowa researchers believe that the absence of colonization of the intestines with helminthic worms is an important environmental factor favoring the development of Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.
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