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Byline: By Mike Swain

ALLERGY sufferers are being given blood-sucking worms to test asthma and hay fever cures.

The world's first clinical trial is under way to test the worms as a treatment for allergies, ulcers and Crohn's disease.

They could also be used in multiple sclerosis and transplant treatments.

Tropical hookworms are put on volunteers' arms and covered with a patch as they burrow inside the body to the gut.

Since the 1970s, scientists have been baffled why people in developing countries with worms don't suffer allergies.

Doctors studied hookworms in New Guinea to investigate how they protect humans from diseases common in rich countries.

They found the worms dampen down the immune system so they can live inside the body for up to five years.

Allergies are caused by an over-active immune system.

Professor David Pritchard, of Nottingham University, who has tested the worms on himself, said: "If you have too many, they bleed you. You end up with iron deficiency and anaemia."

The first 10 volunteers were given 10, 25, 50 or 100 worms.

Professor Pritchard added: "On that basis, we decided that 10 worms are safe."

The volunteers are given a tablet to clean out the worms at the end of the six-week trials.

A study in Ethiopia found that hookworms protect people from dustmites, the most common cause of asthma in the UK.

Professor Pritchard said: "We have to conduct the relevant safety studies to make sure we don't make people with a lung disease any worse.

"We have just finished that stage of the trial and we can categorically say that we have not made things any worse.

"We can't say yet whether we have made things any better but the message is, so far so good."


PARASITES: Hook worms burrow into the skin
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Sep 15, 2007
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