A growing body of evidence suggests that in some patients, increased inflammation contributes to autistic behaviors. Now, a Phase I clinical trial is under way to measure the effects of infecting autistic patients with a non-pathogenic parasitic worm. Scientists at Montefiore Medical Center at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York and biotech company Coronado Biosciences will test the hypothesis that treating these patients with Trichuris suis, a non-pathogenic parasitic pig whipworm, will dampen their immune responses and ameliorate repetitive and irritable behaviors.
The idea to tackle autism symptoms with parasitic worms came from Stewart Johnson, the father of an autistic boy, who learned of the hygiene hypothesis while researching tantalizing links between autism and immunity. (Read more in The Scientist’s feature “Opening a Can of Worms.”) Stewart dosed his teenage son—under Hollander’s supervision—with eggs from the helminth Trichuris suis, which infects and is harmful to pigs but is not pathogenic in humans. With continued treatment, repetitive behaviors, resistance to change, and irritability all decreased in Stewart’s son, said Hollander.
“There are a number of epidemiological studies showing that there’s an increase in autoimmunity in families with autism,” said Paul Patterson, a neurobiologist at the California Institute of Technology who is not associated with the trial. “So therapies that modulate the immune system seem like a logical possibility.”
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