A research team is studying a treatment for autism that may be difficult to stomach: parasitic worms.
Researchers at the Montefiore Medical Center of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Yeshiva University in New York City, are testing the use of Trichuris suis, small worms that live in the large intestines, to interfere with the human body’s immune system. This disruption has resulted in a significant reduction in repetitive and irritable behaviors associated with autism.
Studies have shown that in a person with autism, the body’s immune system attacks itself in the brain region. This failure of the body to recognize its own parts, known as autoimmunity, causes inflammation of the brain which then leads to anti-social behavior and other symptoms related to autism.
Stewart Johnson was a desperate father in 2005. His 13-year-old son Lawrence was out of control. Diagnosed with autism at two and a half, the teenager was getting violent.
He would pound his head into the wall many times per day. Repeated, severe biting of himself led to bleeding. He would poke his eyes and tear at his face. If the traffic light did not change when he expected it to or if he did not cross the streets in the right order, he would kick and scream.
None of the many medications worked. At best, they were momentary reprieves from what was otherwise an extended nightmare.
The family noted that when Lawrence had a fever or allergic reaction, his autism would subside. This pointed to an immune system issue. While he was sick, the immune system attacked the foreign organism rather than itself. When he was well, the immune system went back to attacking the body.
There was also a family history of autoimmune diseases.
Stewart researched the internet and found studies showing that parasitic worm infection could calm the inflammation associated with autoimmunity. He presented his findings to Dr. Eric Hollander, Lawrence’s doctor and head of the Seaver Autism Center at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City at the time.
Hollander was intrigued by the research. After clearing the bureaucratic requirements, he put Lawrence on a regimen of 1,000 roundworm eggs every two weeks for 20 weeks beginning in early 2006. It didn’t work.
Except for four days, Lawrence’s behavior remain unchanged. The family began searching for a residential school that could provide around the clock supervision.
Profoundly disappointed, Stewart notified the German lab OvaMed, which had supplied the eggs, of the results. OvaMed responded with a recommendation to increase the dosage to 2,500 eggs every two weeks. Trials with Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis were using that higher dosage with success.
Lawrence underwent a second clinical trial for ten weeks and the results were overwhelmingly positive. The self-inflicted injuries stopped. No more “freak outs” that kept the Johnson family fearful of leaving their home.
“It wasn’t gradations,” recalls Stewart. “It just went away. All these behaviors just disappeared.” When Stewart relayed the results to Dr. Hollander, the response was identical to Johnson’s. “He was stunned, because all of that behavior set was gone. He was speechless, as I was.”
15 more months of treatment resulted in zero regressions.
The worms are found in the intestines of pigs, and require three to six weeks of incubation in moist soil to reach maturity. The eggs are flushed out of the body by the end of two weeks so there is no danger to the person ingesting the eggs and no danger of spreading the worm to others.
So the premise is to ingest the eggs just long enough to cause the body to divert its immune system without incurring a parasite problem.
Lawrence Johnson remains calm as he continues to take the eggs every two weeks. Though the treatment costs about $800/month, Stewart says the treatment has changed their lives for the better and is well worth the price. “There are no words to describe it. It’s like giving me my son back,” he says. “Or in many ways, like giving me a son that I didn’t ever have.”
Here is how the worm is being used to treat Crohn’s disease.
The success of this treatment is based on helminthic (parasitic worms) therapy:
Stewart Johnson presents his experiences at the Mt. Sinai Autism Conference on October 28, 2007.
If you or your child are interested in participating in this study, please contact Tara Kahn at (718) 653-4859 x226 or email@example.com.