Parasitic worms may not be as bad as people think. In fact, these parasites may even help treat inflammatory bowel disease, a new study has found.

More specifically, worms found in the intestines may help trigger, in a positive way, the composition of the gut bacteria in cases when inflammatory bowel disease is present.

The results of the study, which focused on Crohn's disease, provide more information about the advantageous impacts of worms to the gut.

Crohn's Disease And Worms

As per previous research, study author Deepshika Ramanan and colleagues found that mice that lack a gene called Nod2 encountered problems in the small intestines, particularly developing modifications in the cells of the intestines. Such changes resulted in higher colonization rate of the bacteria called Bacteroides vulgatus (B. vulgatus).

Crohn's disease comes into the picture because the gene Nod2 is often used in modeling the disease.

As the worm called Trichuris muris causes long-term infection, the mucus and cells of the intestines become restored. Upon closer inspection, the researchers found that the parasitic worm helped stop B. vulgatus through immune signalling molecules.

Over time, the team found that the parasites boosted the colonization of strains of another family of bacteria called Clostridiales at the expense of B. vulgatus.

Confirming Results

The team studied an indigenous community in Malaysia, where there is an extremely high rate of intestinal worm infection. They examined stool samples, prior to and post deworming.

The findings show that significant alterations in the microbiota composition, where Clostridiales was the most notably reduced order and Bacteroidales was the most expanded one after treatment. This signals an interesting yet intriguing relationship between worms and humans.

"These results support a model of the hygiene hypothesis whereby certain individuals are genetically susceptible to the consequences of a changing microbial environment," the authors write.

Developing Treatments

While the results spark hope, scientists say developing treatments based on this discovery is not an easy task.

Joel Weinstock from the University of Tufts says, however, that if the scientists can identify how the worms initiate the changes in microbiome composition, then worms may be bypassed and small molecule medicines may be developed. Weinstock was not involved in the study.

The study was published in the journal Science on April 14.

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