Scientists have scheduled two clinical trials that will use a pig parasite to treat Crohn's disease. The novel treatment is the latest attempt to control the symptoms of this severe digestive disorder. As a Crohn's patient, I would have to say it's not for the squeamish.
Crohn's disease is one of two inflammatory bowel diseases and affects as many as 700,000 Americans, according to the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America. The illness has no cure. It can strike anywhere in the digestive tract, though it most commonly affects the intestines. Its first cousin, the other primary inflammatory bowel disease, is ulcerative colitis.
A U.S. trial, known as TRUST-I for TRichUris Suis ova Trial, is already open and will run parallel with a European trial, says Medical News Today. TRUST-I is a Phase 2 clinical trial of Trichuris suis ova, or TSO. The treatment uses microscopic eggs of the pig whipworm parasite. It supposedly works in several ways to squash the disease process, such as controlling signaling proteins associated with inflammation.
The developer of TSO is Coronado Biosciences Inc. The U.S. trial is a randomized double-blind study that's also placebo controlled. Patients will test the safety and effectiveness of TSO at centers around the country. Coronado hopes to use it as a treatment for other diseases as well.
The standard treatments for Crohn's disease include controlling symptoms with dietary changes, using medications, and undergoing surgery, according to the Mayo Clinic. The most sophisticated drugs of recent years are high-tech biologics such as Remicade and Humira. Their use is typically reserved for patients with moderate to severe disease. TSO is also a biologic, and its use will be limited to subjects in this group.
Researchers have discovered no definitive cause of Crohn's disease. Most believe it involves a malfunction of the patient's immune system that causes the body to attack normally benign substances like food, bacteria, or tissue. The result is inflammation. Because of the lower incidence of the disorder in developing nations, many believe environmental factors play a role.
TSO is based on the Hygiene Hypothesis. This theory suggests that patients in developed countries have less exposure to parasites. That factor somehow prevents the immune system from functioning correctly.
Coronado expects the U.S. trial to end in the second half of 2013. Each oral dose of TSO will contain 7,500 eggs harvested from pig feces and placed in a tablespoon of saline. Patients will take either TSO or a placebo once every two weeks for 12 weeks. Results of the Crohn's Disease Activity Index will measure the drug's success.
As a patient with limited success using standard medications, including one biologic, I might be a likely subject for this trial. However, I think I'll pass. I just can't imagine swallowing pig parasite eggs to treat Crohn's disease or anything else.
Vonda J. Sines has published thousands of print and online health and medical articles. She specializes in diseases and other conditions that affect the quality of life.