According to a recent report, one biotech company has plans to test and market a rather unusual treatment for certain autoimmune intestinal ailments like Crohn’s disease—a concoction containing the eggs of a parasitic whipworm that infects pigs.

That’s right: Pig parasites used to treat human disease. How can parasites possibly help?

Crohn’s disease patients suffer from an irritable bowel because of inflammation of the intestinal lining. A communication error in the immune system is thought to cause specialized white blood cells, called T cells, to mistakenly attack intestinal cells, thinking they are harmful invaders.

The concept of using parasites to combat this condition was spurred by a 1989 study in which researchers found that incidences of allergic diseases had increased in cultures with “higher standards of personal cleanliness.”1 They reasoned that exposure to allergens at a very early age strengthened immune response. Perhaps exposure to parasites, which are more common in less developed societies, would help people suffering from intestinal diseases.2

Though very similar in appearance to the whipworms that can infect humans, pig whipworms only grow for a few weeks in human intestines. That isn’t enough time to establish an infection, but it is long enough for the worm to interact with the intestinal inner lining. The researchers found that the treatment in a preliminary trial resulted in “upward of 70 percent of patients [achieving] total remissions,” according to a financial news report.3

The report also stated, “Parasites similar to the pig worm that [biotech firm] Coronado is studying actually regulate cell mechanisms that prevent excessive T-cell activation—a major cause of autoimmune disorders….”3

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