Hookworms used in trial to treat coeliacs

Doctors in Christchurch are looking for volunteers with coeliac disease to take part in a somewhat unusual trial.

As many as one in 70 Kiwis suffer from the autoimmune disorder that causes a reaction to gluten. It damages the intestine and stops patients absorbing nutrients properly.

In the new study, parasitic worms are applied to the skin, where they enter the body, making their way into the blood and onto the gut.

Having hookworms can be a serious health problem if a person becomes infested, but an earlier trial in Australia found giving a controlled dose to coeliacs helped them tolerate gluten.

Prof Richard Gearry from University of Otago is one of the researchers behind the study, and says their hope is that the hookworm will trigger the immune system.  

"If we can switch that off then that would be fantastic for those people because then they can have gluten in their diet, which will be great for their quality of life" he told Newshub. 

Professor Gearry says their aim now is to show the study is safe, but also prove its effect with a larger dose of gluten in a new group of people.

"In fact what we'd really like to know is what is it within the hookworm that does this because if we could find out what that ... we'd just give them the chemical."

Professor Gearry says the trial is due to get underway in the next few months and they're looking for coeliacs in Canterbury to take part.

For more information about the trial, email katherine.denton@cdhb.govt.nz.