Parasitic worm unlikely hero

A trans-Tasman research team believes hookworms may be the key to treating Coeliac Disease.  Remarkably, it seems these parasitic worms produce molecules beneficial to gut flora in people suffering from inflammatory diseases of the digestive tract.

It’s called worm-induced immune modulation and, according to the Bowel and Liver Trust’s General Manager, Margaret Fitzgerald, it could be a global game-changer.

Professor Richard Gearry is a leading gastroenterologist based in Christchurch and has been instrumental in the trans-Tasman collaboration, both clinically and as a member of the Bowel and Liver Trust.

He says a recent open-label proof-of-principle clinical trial in Melbourne showed infections with low numbers of hookworms were safe and enabled people with Coeliac Disease to tolerate eating a medium sized bowl of pasta with no ill-effects.

That’s an incredible finding.  The established protocol for managing Coeliac Disease is a gluten-free diet.  But it doesn’t always alleviate the symptoms, plus it is expensive, inconvenient, and inadvertent gluten exposure is common.

For trial participants, the thought of a bowl of pasta without the health repercussions was enough to tolerate the deliberate infection of hookworms.

The next step is to identify the molecules that induce immunomodulation with a view to developing a medication.  Larger placebo-controlled clinical trials are required and the Bowel and Liver Trust is committed to fundraising to support this ground-breaking research.

The Abbott Group is a founding sponsor of the Bowel and Liver Trust.  If you would like to contribute to the Bowel and Liver Trust’s fundraising efforts to support vital, on-going research, contact Margaret Fitzgerald on 021 0241 3305 or visit


Did you know?

  • 1 in 80 New Zealanders have Coeliac Disease.
  • New Zealand has one of the highest rates of inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s Disease/ulcerative colitis) in the world, mainly affecting people 15-35yrs.
  • More than 3,500 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year in NZ.
  • A 2014 research study funded by the Bowel and Liver Trust showed the incidence of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) increased by 50% over a ten-year period in Canterbury alone.

Published on Monday, August 27th, 2018, under Latest News