News Release

Diet of worms protects against bowel cancer

Reports and Proceedings

New Scientist

REGULAR doses of worms really do rid people of inflammatory bowel disease. The first trials of the treatment have been a success, and a drinkable concoction containing thousands of pig whipworm eggs could soon be launched in Europe.

The product will be called TSO, short for Trichuris suis ova, and will be made by a new German company called BioCure, whose sister company BioMonde sells leeches and maggots for treating wounds. Chief executive Detlev Goj says he expects sales of TSO in Europe will start in May, after approval by the European Agency for the Evaluation of Medicinal Products. The agency would not comment. The pig whipworm was chosen as it does not survive very long in people. Patients would have to take TSO around twice a month. The human whipworm, which infects half a billion people, can occasionally cause problems such as anaemia.

The latest trials, carried out in the US, involved 100 people with ulcerative colitis and 100 with Crohn's disease, both incurable and potentially serious diseases collectively known as inflammatory bowel disease. In many of the volunteers the symptoms of IBD- such as abdominal pain, bleeding and diarrhoea- disappeared. The remission rate was 50 per cent for ulcerative colitis and 70 per cent for Crohn's, says gastroenterologist Joel Weinstock of the University of Iowa, who devised the treatment.

"A lot of researchers couldn't believe this treatment was effective, but people are always sceptical when confronted with new ideas," Weinstock says. He will announce the results in May at a conference in New Orleans, and full details will soon be published. "With our new impressive results, we can come out of the closet," he says.

The trials follow the success of a pilot study, revealed by New Scientist in 1999 (7 August, p 4). Weinstock came up with the idea of using worms to treat IBD after noticing that the sharp rise in the disease over the past 50 years in western countries coincided with a fall in infections by parasites such as roundworms and human whipworms. IBD is still rare in developing countries where parasitic infections remain common.

Weinstock's theory is that our immune systems have evolved to cope with the presence of such parasites, and can become overactive without them.


Author: Frank van Kolfshooten

New Scientist issue: 10 April 2004


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