Date Published: 7 February 2006
Hayfever sufferers: Could you host a hookworm ?
This is not the usual form of news item - as it is an invitation to participate in an unusual medical trial. We have included this item as there is much interest in treatments for allergies so readers may be especially interested to know about the idea that infection with hook worms (a type of parasite) is being investigated for its benefits to hayfever sufferers. Academics at Nottingham University in England are looking for hayfever sufferers to take part in an unusual study, which will look at a potential new treatment for the allergy.
The research is not for the squeamish or fainthearted. Volunteers would need to agree to being deliberately infected with hookworm to look at the possible link between the parasite and a lower risk of allergic disease.
Hayfever and asthma have both become increasingly more common in affluent societies over recent years and scientists are uncertain about what is causing this. One possible explanation is that as we live in an increasingly clean environment, and are exposed to fewer infections, our immune systems start to respond to normally harmless things, like pollen.
In the developing world, hayfever and asthma are far less common but millions of people are infected with hookworm ? a tiny worm that lives in the bowel. Studies in Ethiopia suggest a link between being infected by hookworm and a lower risk of developing the diseases, which could present new possibilities for treatment.
The research team in the Department of Epidemiology at the University is looking for volunteers with hayfever to take part in the clinical trial, which is being funded by the Wellcome Trust.
During the study volunteers would be infected with 10 hookworm larvae (or with a placebo), which is done by placing the larvae on the skin under a plaster for 24 hours. They would then make regular visits to Nottingham City Hospital over a period of 16 weeks, there members of the team will monitor their progress closely by carrying out blood tests, questionnaires about their hayfever symptoms and various breathing tests. The researchers will also carry out skin tests on the volunteers for allergy to cat, dust and grass extract.
The hookworm infection is not contagious in developed countries with normal standards of hygiene and sanitation and at the end of the study, the volunteers will be given a tablet to cure the hookworm infection from their body.
The study follows a pilot study to work out how many hookworms would be needed to trigger a response from the immune system. A group of 10 (including the researchers) received 10, 25, 50 or 100 hookworm larvae and 10 larvae was found to produce a good response while also producing the fewest side effects.
All information gained during the study will be treated confidentially and the researchers will reimburse all reasonable travel expenses incurred during the study.
Anyone who would like to take part is asked to contact Dr Johanna Feary, Clinical Research Fellow, on +44 (0)115 823 1936 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: Nottingham University, England