New York Times has an article today on medicine’s favorite kind of researcher: the self-infecting scientist. Scientists throughout history have made amazing discoveries by intentionally infecting themselves with deadly pathogens. Stories are often told of the brazen heroics of John Hunter giving himself gonorrhea and syphilis, or even more recently of Barry Marshall drinking a concoction of H. Pylori to prove that it caused gastritis.
The latest in this distinguished line of masochistic research is Dr. David Pritchard. In his past research. Dr. Pritchard noticed that people infected with hookworms didn’t seem to suffer from asthma and hay fever as much as non-infected individuals. His testing in animal models produced unpredictable results, leading him to the conclusion that the only way to do this right would be to let 50 or so worms crawl in through his skin quite painfully. The pain and diarrhea that followed changed the recommended worm dose from 50 to 10.
The aspect of our immune system that is responsible for getting rid of these types of parasites is also responsible for many allergies and auto-immune diseases. While the worms sit in your small bowel, happily sucking your blood from the inside, it is believed that they produce substances that suppress this allergy causing wing of the immune system.
The research is currently testing the plausibility of this theory. The over-arching goal is to identify the suppressing substance and synthesize it as a drug. However, people are a bit impatient and are paying up to $3000 dollars to have worms crawl through their skin.
Read the entertaining article here…