Published online by Cambridge University Press: 31 May 2016
The successful use of helminths as therapeutic agents to resolve inflammatory disease was first recorded 40 years ago. Subsequent work in animal models and in humans has demonstrated that the organisms might effectively treat a wide range of inflammatory diseases, including allergies, autoimmune disorders and inflammation-associated neuropsychiatric disorders. However, available information regarding the therapeutic uses and effects of helminths in humans is limited. This study probes the practices and experiences of individuals ‘self-treating’ with helminths through the eyes of their physicians. Five physicians monitoring more than 700 self-treating patients were interviewed. The results strongly support previous indications that helminth therapy can effectively treat a wide range of allergies, autoimmune conditions and neuropsychiatric disorders, such as major depression and anxiety disorders. Approximately 57% of the self-treating patients observed by physicians in the study had autism. Physicians reported that the majority of patients with autism and inflammation-associated co-morbidities responded favourably to therapy with either of the two most popular organisms currently used by self-treaters, Hymenolepis diminuta and Trichuris suis. However, approximately 1% of paediatric patients experienced severe gastrointestinal pains with the use of H. diminuta, although the symptoms were resolved with an anti-helminthic drug. Further, exposure to helminths apparently did not affect the impaired comprehension of social situations that is the hallmark of autism. These observations point toward potential starting points for clinical trials, and provide further support for the importance of such trials and for concerted efforts aimed at probing the potential of helminths, and perhaps other biologicals, for therapeutic use.