What are parasitic worms?
Parasitic worms live and feed in living hosts. They receive nourishment and protection while disrupting their hosts’ ability to absorb nutrients. This can cause weakness and diseases in the host. Parasitic worms cannot reproduce entirely within their host’s body; they have a life cycle that includes some stages that need to take place outside of the host.
These worms can be seen with the naked eye and can borrow in the lining of the gut when within the body. They are also known as Helminths, which are further classified into 2 groups: Flatworms, (which include tape-worms and flukes) and roundworms (including species such as the whipworm, threadworm, guinea worm, and filarial worms.
How do people even get them?
- Touching objects or surfaces with worm eggs on them
- Touching soil or swallowing water or food with worm eggs in it
- Eating raw or undercooked beef, pork or freshwater fish containing baby worms
Overall, poor sanitation in an environment can cause these worms to find a way to enter the body. Scientists did a lot of research into how to stop parasites reproducing, but now we may need to do the opposite and use them for good.
Possible uses in medicine
Therapy – The therapy requires the deliberate infection with helminths, or parasitic worms, by swallowing them or letting them crawl through the skin. It claims to alleviate a range of autoimmune and inflammatory diseases like allergies, inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) and multiple sclerosis (MS). The UK Food and Drug Administration has not approved helminthic therapy.
Currently, scientists are studying how parasitic could be useful for common diseases and even cancer. However, this is still in the research stage and being tested as to how effective it may be against some diseases.
There are also side effects such as a risk of protein deficiency, anaemia, difficulty concentrating, and in some patients, stunted growth medications, and for anaemia iron supplements can offset side effects.
The examples of positive effects of parasites presented so far give hope for the future in terms of fighting many diseases for which pharmacological treatment has not yet brought a positive effect. A better understanding of those processes might lead to the development of new methods of unconventional medical treatment.
Image source: https://www.genengnews.com/news/paralyzing-parasitic-worms-old-drug-gets-new-understanding/
Future advancements in medicine
Overall, the development of the parasitic worm complimenting other current treatment against diseases is promising. Accompanied by other methods, such as leeches, this could make future treatments less destructive to the human body and more effective.
More and more parasite species have now been sequenced, and due to their simplicity compared to other medicines, parasitic worms have the potential to be extensively researched which could possibly lead to incurable diseases becoming curable.
Image source: https://biologue.plos.org/2018/01/04/plos-biology-in-the-media-december/
The future for parasitic worms is exciting, and is looking promising for future treatments which could soon become mainstream.
Thank you for reading!
Written by Malick, a Year 11 Student at Haberdashers’ Aske’s Knights Academy