Autism: Parasitic Worms May Be Promising New Treatment

Autism researchers at Montefiore Hospital in New York City are researching the use of parasitic whipworms as a possible promising new treatment for the disorder.

The clinical trial involved giving 10 high functioning autistic adults the eggs of the parasitic worms to ingest over a period of 12 weeks. The participants were also given a placebo to ingest for a period of 12 weeks. The results of the trial showed that the participants were “less likely to engage in repetitive behaviors and found it easier to adjust to their surroundings” when ingesting the worm eggs as compared to when ingesting the placebo. They also reported that the participants were better able to adjust to changed expectations and less likely to engage in acting out behaviors when ingesting the worm eggs.

The researchers involved with the study theorize that autism may be an autoimmune disorder that develops due to a lack of parasites or microbes early in life.  Introduction of the parasitic worms may therefore be a promising new treatment for autism, since the worms may help the body to develop the previously lacking appropriate immune response. The worms are naturally eliminated from the body within two weeks of ingestion and are thus considered safe for human consumption. The same species of worm egg has been successful in treating other forms of auto-immune diseases including Crohn’s disease.

The work of the Montefiore researchers investigating possible new treatments for autism doesn’t end with parasitic worms.  The same researchers have also found that high temperature baths may be effective in reducing the social difficulties associated with autism. This angle of treatment is being investigated as a result of previous work that has indicated that symptoms of autism appear to be quite reduced following the presence of a fever in about a third of all autistic participants in a separate study .

The results of these studies are considered preliminary as they have not yet been published in a professional journal and will need to be replicated to assure their promise. However, at least some scientists already feel that the findings lend support for the idea that immune-based therapies may be helpful in the treatment of autism. The researchers intend to continue their work with a focus on extending their studies to include lower-functioning autistic adults and young children with autism as well.

It is currently estimated that autism affects approximately one in 88 children overall and one in 54 boys.  It is currently the fastest growing developmental disability diagnosed.  Autism is characterized by a wide range of communication, relational and physical difficulties.

The cause of autism remains unknown, although genetics and the maternal ingestion of certain prescription drugs during pregnancy are generally believed to be linked to the development of autism in general. Inadequate parenting skills and the giving of vaccinations have been previously blamed as causes for autism but are now generally known not to be to blame.

There is no definitive medical test for autism and there is no cure. It is believed, however, that those children with autism who have the advantage of early intervention have the best outcomes. For families with a loved one with autism, studies like those at Montefiore offer hope as to new avenues for treatment. As bizarre as it may sound, the use of parasitic worms may be the next promising new treatment to provide that hope for those with autism and those who love them.

By Michele Wessel


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