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Worm therapy anyone?

February 16, 2012

Thanks for all the sage advice on the five-second rule. The Boskone program person just came for me, but I have a minute to ask what you all think of worm therapy.

Now I hasten to add, as the saying goes, “Kids, don’t try this at home.” Picking up food after more than five seconds is not the way to get therapeutic worms. However, certain kinds of worms may (hypothesis) benefit your immune system. The theory is that since the human body evolved in the presence of parasites, our immune system functions optimally in the presence of a (modest) level of parasites. Without them, the immune system lacks a baseline and tends to overreact with asthma etc. There are some intriguing data supporting the connection between parasite absence and allergic responses. Only correlations, though, no causation.

The WSJ report involves use of a pig worm–that is, a worm that cannot reproduce in humans. So, supposedly it’s safe. Don’t know what my insurer would think.

Another interesting review here, about the similar benefits of tapeworms. What do you think?

I’ll be back later, after getting my badge down at the art show.

Update: So I got my badge, and got eaten up by Charlie & Feorag’s monster.
Paula Lieberman tells me that someone at Brigham and Women’s Hospital is trying hookworm therapy.  Yum.

  1. February 16, 2012 9:49 pm

    This is the sort of thing that I wish had happened to me as child (accidentally) before I knew to be disgusted by it. It would take some serious convincing to get me to ingest worms now.

  2. February 17, 2012 1:39 am

    I expect that tailored commensal organisms are going to be big business in another decade or so. Everything from armpit bacteria that make you smell nice to carefully neutered parasites that secrete drugs you need in response to biochemical events in your body. (For that matter, they could secrete dyes that go through the kidneys as a diagnostic measure…) We’re already doing probiotic drinks and fecal transplants…

  3. paws4thot permalink
    February 17, 2012 4:45 am

    Tackling the base question from a statistical rather than medical or biological standpoint (probably best; I’m bright enough to know I know more stats than medicine or biology) I’d agree that the “allergy pandemic” does seem to corrolate with a rise in “hygenically clean” domestic cleaning products.

  4. February 17, 2012 8:59 am

    Sounds like a lot of patentable ideas here. I’ll ask my colleagues at MIT this afternoon, at the seminar, if any of them are working on armpit bacteria.

  5. February 17, 2012 10:05 am

    As someone who’s had serious allergies and asthma, I wouldn’t mind hosting the right worm.

    One concept I’ve also toyed with is seeing if it’s possible to set up a worm as a “keystone organisms” in the gut, something that would not only make our immune systems happy, it would keep populations of pathogenic bacteria under control. In Ghosts of Deep Time I posited a worm dominated system as part of an engineered gut microbiota for time travelers, so they wouldn’t suffer from crippling traveler’s diarrhea every time they changed eras. The system also included amoebas that harbored bacteria in vacuoles, that worked as an archive of “good” gut bacteria so that they could be reintroduced as needed. Of course, I also expected it to take weeks for people’s guts to adapt to the engineered system…

  6. Sean permalink
    February 17, 2012 3:01 pm

    What does a Strossian monster look like in living colour? I need more data to go with my mental imagery from my readings of his novels (his Laundry series primarily, but I have also enjoyed Rule 34)

    • paws4thot permalink
      February 20, 2012 9:25 am

      If you want to know what the monsters in the Laundryverse look like from a canon source, look right, and click on “Charlie’s DIary” then do a search. At least some of them are probably Lovecraftian.

  7. February 18, 2012 9:30 pm

    The idea of amebas that harbor bacteria of course has examples in real life.
    Negative example–Legionella bacteria parasitize amebas in water systems, then eventually get into people’s lungs where they invade our macrophages the same way.

    Positive example–Some bacteria have evolved to live in endosymbiosis with amebas. This is another example of evolution followed in the laboratory.

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