In a first of its kind, the Malaghan Institute is seeking healthy volunteers to take part in a clinical trial designed
to explore the therapeutic potential of human hookworms.
Funded by the Health Research Council, and in collaboration with the University of Otago Wellington, the trial’s
ultimate aim is to find better treatment options for a range of inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, including coeliac,
asthma, allergy, MS and inflammatory bowel disease.
Director of the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research Professor Graham Le Gros says the institute – New Zealand’s
leader in immunology and immunotherapy research – has had an interest in hookworms for many years due to their ability
to alter the immune system of their human host.
“Hookworms are masters at dampening down the human immune system to evade detection and expulsion. This offers huge
therapeutic potential. Inflammatory and autoimmune diseases are characterised by an overactive immune system, so
subduing this response is an obvious line of treatment. We want to better understand how these hookworms modulate the
immune system and how we might manipulate this effect in a positive way to treat a range of diseases.”
Dr Stephen Inns, a gastroenterologist and senior lecturer at the University of Otago Wellington’s Department of Medicine
says the increasing rates of inflammatory disease in the Western world raises the question – what’s changed?
“When we look at improvements in standards of living, hygiene and access to medicine, it seems likely that the loss of
gut parasites, such as hookworms, from humans may be partially to blame. There could be a mutually beneficial
relationship we’re missing out on.”
Dr Inns says there is a lack of depth of treatment options for inflammatory disease and all have significant adverse
“A safer, natural therapeutic alternative is very appealing, and that’s what we’re exploring in this clinical trial.”
The Institute is seeking up to 15 Wellington-based volunteers aged between 18-65 years for the trial, who will be
infected with a low, safe dose of Necator americanus larvae, and studied over the course of a year. Participants will be compensated for their time.
Malaghan Institute Head of Laboratories Mali Camberis says this initial trial is for healthy individuals with no
pre-existing autoimmune or allergic disorders, to establish a baseline control for future trials.
“We’re looking for people to help us in our journey to provide practical solutions to what can be debilitating
conditions for many New Zealanders.”
Ms Camberis says hookworm is a uniquely human adapted species that can to be tolerated by their human host with very
little side effects.
“They can’t multiply inside their host, or be transmitted through physical contact or exchange of bodily fluids. With
standard hygiene practices, there is absolutely no risk of participants infecting others.”
One of the goals of this trial – which has met strict regulatory and safety requirements – is to develop a good
manufacturing practice (GMP) grade worm that can be used safely for ongoing trials and ultimately in some form as an
approved therapeutic product.
“There is a significant unregulated industry for helminth therapy, involving people self-medicating for serious allergic
and autoimmune conditions. We want to do the groundwork to ensure the safety and effectiveness of this type of
treatment,” says Ms Camberis.
“We see a future where hookworms, or a hookworm-derived product, are an established therapy for auto-inflammatory or
immune-mediated diseases, to treat patients and improve their overall quality of life.”
To find out more, or register interest in participating in the trial, email firstname.lastname@example.org