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An update on hookworms

Friday, April 02, 2010 - 08:00 PM

If you heard our Parasites show, then you've heard the story of how one man--Jasper Lawrence--turned his passion for hookworms into a business (Jasper deliberately infected himself with hookworms to combat allergies and asthma: listen to the full story here, or you can catch it on This American Life this weekend).

Pat Walters, who first introduced us to Jasper, wondered how the modern-day entrepreneur was faring—were orders flying in? Did people really want to buy hookworms? So he called Jasper up…and discovered he had big news: he’d had a visit from the FDA. Jasper says he wasn’t surprised:

 

But as the man left, he said he’d be back in a few days to do an inspection. And, according to Jasper, something changed between that first visit and the following inspection:

 

Jasper was scared. And he didn’t want to stop selling hookworms. So he and his wife Michelle made a decision:

 

That was January. Jasper and Michelle now live in the tropics—and they’re rebuilding their lab. Despite everything, Jasper still believes he can help people. Pat asked him, what would it take to make him stop?

 

So Jasper has moved on—to an undisclosed location. That was in January. And last we heard, he's not shipping to the US.

PS: When we spoke with the FDA, they wouldn't go on record as confirming or denying Jasper's accounts. And, of course, using hookworms is an experimental treatment and we here at Radiolab do not endorse it.

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Comments [34]

Sayi Nulu from Newyork.

I heard this on NPR and wondered if this is related to the live fish treatment
in Hyderabad , India .
link to news article on that .
http://www.newvision.co.ug/news/656460-swallowing-live-fish-to-treat-asthma.html

I think these live fish are loaded with hookworms. ( I do not know for sure but my hunch is they are).

Oct. 22 2014 08:59 AM
Rebecca

I listened to this the other night in the car before work and found it very interesting. However, I also just started reading 'It Starts With Food' about the Whole30 program. There are many people who've used the program to ease or get rid of a huge variety of chronic systemic inflammation issues, from acne and hair loss to allergies, depression, fibromyalgia, RA, and diabetes. I'm starting that program.

Oct. 21 2014 06:13 AM
LRH from St. Louis, Mo.

Sorry I am late to the party but I was cutting my grass and Listening to NPR. I heard the program about parasites and Jasper Lawrence was on as a subject matter expert. His information that was shared was exciting and new. I have no idea if the hook worm would work on all individuals or none of them but I do believe it is truely worth a try. Considering the ineffectiveneess of most current dedications and not to mention the negative side effects of these medications.
Jasper mentioned that there may be some benefits of using hook worms to treat Diabetes of which I suffer from. I will be seeking him out to see if hook worms may help me.
So for those of you that don't think much of his assursions then don't partake in the his prescribe treatment thats your right but I do not think that you are justified in attacking his family, back off. I am looking forward to trying this treatment. At this point I have nothing to loose.

Oct. 11 2014 05:35 PM
Amanda from NC

I recently scrolled to the bottom of the archives and listened to the two pieces about hookworms from a few years back. If the infections of hookworms were originally solved by people ceasing to defecate on the ground, how does Mr. Lawrence keep himself infected? Constant re-infection?

Thanks.

Sep. 26 2014 09:41 AM
Radley A from Spokane WA

I have read all the comments here and just want to add the fact that I have very bad allergies and also asthma. My asthma is under control thanks to inhaled steroids (adviar), but my allergies are not. I want to point our one fact here. Third world countries do not suffer from autoimmune diseases, which these treatments are aimed towards. I do think it is very possible even probable that these parasites can be beneficial. As far as the FDA goes, or government for that fact, I am very on that matter which is another discussion all together. I would like to try this treatment myself, and for any skeptic out there, worse case scenario is it doesn't work, if which case you take some medication and rid your body of the parasite, it's not really any different than trying 1 of the many your Dr tries to prescribe to you, of which you both suspect it won't help.

Mar. 18 2014 03:51 AM
JasperLawrence from Cambridge, UK

While I am here, neil, ours is a fraction of the cost of mainstream treatments. Besides I did not invent capitalism, I have to live in it though. So when I provide a product and people are willing to pay the price I ask, everyone involved is happy. Perhaps what you meant to say is that you would not be willing to pay the price we ask. But I am willing to bet you do not have one of the diseases we are so successful at treating. Therefore you have not paid the price, in monetary and side effects terms, of the largely ineffective drugs marketed to treat these diseases.

To PharmaGuy, given your screen name I am going to go out on a limb and guess that you are part of the system that brought us Vioxx (and the other COX2 Inhibitors), PhenPhen, Statins, and Thalidomide, etc.

Your perspective is determined by your vantage point, and yours is from within the pharma industry.

Those with MS do not have 20-30 years while you tool around with poorly designed studies, cherry picked for submission or not by the drug companies for assessment by the FDA. Leading to approval for abominations like Gilenya. You read it here first, Gilenya will kill hundreds a month, and be taken off the market in a few years.

Besides which, we are working on approval of our therapies, just not in the US. By the end of 2013 we should have the first license for Helminthic Therapy in the world. UK doctors will be able to prescribe it upon request.

Everyone happy?

Aug. 24 2013 07:41 PM
JasperLawrence from Cambridge, UK


To the person (plaidsportcoat from norcal) who believes my wife is "sick" for "choosing" me over her kids.

First, to judge someone's choices from such a far remove suggests that you are not that old, or that your development intellectually and emotionally is stunted. In short you are an idiot of one variety or another. I can say you are an idiot if you can call her sick.

Second, are you really aware of what the alternative choices were?

You have no idea what was happening at the time, why or on what basis we made our decisions.

You should know however that the FDA made a choice, in your name, which was to shut us down and to pursue criminal prosecutions when another branch of the US government, the CDC, tells US doctors not to treat light infections of the organisms we sell. The FDA at the time noted that no one had complained about our therapy, it came to their attention through a news story.

That leaves you unfazed, but not your assumptions about my wife?

You might want to examine your priorities, it is attitudes like yours that has made America the corporatocracy that it is. If more people were as courageous as my wife America might live up to the myth of itself it projects, and that bellicose idiots favouring sports coats are so quick to defend as perfect.

When you have been confronted with prison for making the sick well, or done anything significant instead of hiding behind a pseudonym and criticising others, come back and let us know about your choices.

In the meantime to criticise my lovely wife, heartbroken for years since, as I have been, at what we have been subjected to, the destruction of our family, makes you not just an idiot but a scoundrel.

One hiding, with good reason, behind a pseudonym.

That makes you a coward, too. You are not even brave enough to use your real name when you post to a blog.

My wife would prefer you not to call her "this woman", she would like you to know that her name is Michelle Dellerba.

Aug. 24 2013 07:39 PM
David

I just heard this on RadioLab, Sunday, July 21 2013 - must be a rerun. When the discussion turns to the economic collusional schemes of the FDA and drug companies, I tune out. But there's something in the biology of this that makes so much sense apart from the craziness. How is it that hookworms communicate with our immune system to survive? Do they release proteins? Enzymes? Change our chemistry some how? Can we replicate that to good effect without being hosts to worms?

It's fascinating, totally believable, and I'd self "medicate" if I was ill.

Jul. 21 2013 03:27 PM

@Mark Peterson's comment - just a cursory check on hookworms will lead you to the information that the two species most common in humans are spread throughout the world, so whatever he is/was bringing into the States wouldn't be considered an invasive species.

Any invading the Ancylostoma duodenale species (the "Old World" version) of hookworm might have done was done way before Jasper started his efforts.

Dec. 22 2012 06:44 PM
MB

http://autoimmunetherapies.com/helminthic_therapy_purchase.html

Oct. 02 2012 12:21 PM
The0ne

I don't think it's a good idea at all myself, being a scientist and all but one of my sister is suffering badly from allergies and asthma for years now. I'm willing to try this to have her healthy and alive. If it works great, if it doesn't then the worms will be rid of.

Sep. 03 2012 04:36 PM
MIsty from South Dakota

My son who is 2 has hade respiratory distress problems and we have not determined why and what is causing this. he has been in and out of the hospital many of times and we are just hoping that maybe he out grows it, but I can't imagine putting a worm in him id that safe for children? just weird I think!!

Aug. 24 2012 06:27 PM
Mark Peterson from San Diego, CA

I know this is very late, but I heard this on NPR yesterday, 4-28-2012. My thought is this: Jasper is intentionally bringing an invasive species into every place he visits and every city he sends his samples to, then everyplace his customers visit. That species of hookworm is now present in the sanitary systems of each city or location that any of these people have visited.

Importation of invasive species has cost billions to a wide variety of industries, and killed off or endangered many native species.

The thought that a private citizen could have possibly investigated, or even known how to investigate, the issues surrounding what he is doing, is unlikely. What happens if a native life form is infected and a population dies? Who is at fault, and how could we possibly punish enough? He did what he did because he was uncomfortable with his allergies (after becoming a landscaper), but the consequences might well be catastrophic.

Personally, I believe the man should be quarantined.

Apr. 29 2012 12:23 PM
tlc from Canada

I have been using helminthic therapy since 2006. Since starting helminthic therapy I no longer suffer from crohn's disease. It has saved my life when no medical treatment has worked.
Look at the research and see for yourself. The research clearly proves that helminth therapy works. Weinstock’s and Summer’s research from the US, and conclusive research from England and Canadian have concluded that helminthes play a symbiotic roll with human immune systems. We have evolved with them over thousands of years. Helminthes modulate and temper the human immune system, which reduces the inflammatory responses. Helminthic therapy works against autoimmune diseases; there is no doubt in the results of the research. The hygiene hypothesis is correct.
The FDA does not want to use helminthes to cure disease because it would reduce the bottom line of their drug stocks and investors profits. The medical system is corrupt and has no ethics. Thank god for Ovamed and Autoimmune Therapies. I would not be alive today without helminthic therapy.

Sep. 05 2011 08:45 PM
Kris from Tillamook OR

I have tried absolutely everything... I'm desperate. barring a trip to africa, I need to know how to get ahold of this treatment... please?

Jun. 09 2011 11:11 AM
plaidsportcoat from norcal

The woman chose him over her kids. Sick.

May. 04 2011 03:42 PM
Glen Rankin from Scotland

Does anybody know where i can buy Hookworms , my girlfriend has a very debilitating autoimmune disease and we want to try them. Any help wpould be very appreciated.

Mar. 01 2011 08:27 AM
Mariahn Scarborough from Seattle

The studies have been done. In fact this information is decades old. This treatment isn't available in the US, like many treatments that work, and I would like to know why.

Feb. 22 2011 11:44 PM
X

I have yet to find actual FDA website proof that Jasper was contacted.

Dec. 10 2010 02:12 PM
gdk

It was a really great show, but the Jasper piece was irresponsible. Just go get any parasite from Africa? Yeah, that'll do. And then to go sell them to others as a cure all is just awful and clueless. God knows what it could do to people. I was very surprised that the show gave him this platform without a balance report that what he did is really really stupid.

May. 25 2010 01:27 AM
adi_lou

My daughter has asthma. My family tells me all I need to do is get a chihuahua. The dog sits on a person's chest, and "takes the asthma away." I have heard this from more than one source. If chihuahuas, why not hookworms? I would try it (on myself, not my 8 year old).

May. 05 2010 12:08 AM
K Parker

It is possible, the FDA did this at the direct behest of someone in a pharmaceutical company. Some Phama would be negatively impacted financially by the loss of allergy proscriptions and asthma treatments so the incentive is there. Wonder who exactly made this decision in the FDA. From the description it was not the inspectors that came to Jaspers house.

The FDA serves an important role. I enjoyed reading A Question of Intent by David Kessler who was the head of the FDA under Bush then Clinton. I bristle at conservatives attacking the FDA as big government regulation.

But, the members of the FDA work with folks in pharmaceutical companies all the time to get drugs approved and such. It's normal and it's their job. These working relationships could inadvertently become influential. Corruption is a subtle gray thing and the line can be blurry. It is totally conceivable you have stumbled apron
some excellent reporting while doing your science education.

Apr. 13 2010 06:48 PM

I was really disappointed to hear that the FDA shut Jasper down. There are human clinical trials going on to assess the safety and effectiveness fof using hookworm for various illnesses (see PubMed). Hopefully these will eventually change the situation for Jasper.

To the commenter above--the price tag doesn't seem unreasonable, given that Jasper has to foot the bill for all the equipment, etc. to do this and make enough money to live on. I really think it's a matter of perspective.

I have serious allergies, food allergies, and asthma which limit my life. The allergist has recommended Xolair at a cost of around $10,000 a year, none of which insurance will pay for. This injectable medication does not come without significant risks. This is in addition to the hundreds of dollars I already pay per year for medications that are doing God knows what to my body over time.

On the other hand, I could pay $2,900 for some hookworm that will last for several years and has relatively few risks when given in small doses. Personally, I'd prefer the hookworm.

Apr. 09 2010 04:56 PM
neil

Did anyone actually check out Jasper's website? It's perverse how much money he was charging. 3k for a single dose??!! Helping people? Give me a break...This story was sadly very one-sided. I'm disgusted and not by the worms. I would eat them with hardly a moment's hesitation. Why this generally excellent show would give this guy so much free publicity is beyond me.

Apr. 09 2010 12:10 PM
Kate

This was such a good and gross story. Reminded me of another fabulous radio lab bug story. As we come into allergy season in my 2nd grade class I want all the families to just get some hookworm- their children will feel great. How strange!

Apr. 08 2010 03:25 PM
Denise

I loved the parasite show when I first heard it. I went around telling people about Jasper and his allergies and his hookworms. Shortly after that I discovered that I had hookworms, along with a few other intestinal parasites. I wonder how many people are harboring parasites even in our hygienic country.

I was kind of excited about the hookworms when I first found out I had them, but my naturopath convinced me to try to kill them, using naturopathic means. I must say, I feel better than I have in years, now that they are mostly gone. I suppose if I had terrible allergies I would choose the hookworms, but over all I don't think they were doing me too many favors.

Apr. 07 2010 07:07 PM
Go Radio Lab

Alternative treatments like this report are essential to increased awareness of the world in which we live. If the use of hookworms can help some live more comfortable lives, it should be available. If hookworms present a danger to others at the same time...then the risk should be studied and scientific research is a must. The FDA must already have the data on hookworm but unwilling to be forthcoming. The FDA should not scare people out of the country...but should monitor and assess the work...like they have done with FETAL TISSUE research and HEART VALVE (bovine) examples. The FDA did not shut down these businesses .....why the scare tactics? It must be known that there are hookworm benefits....

Apr. 05 2010 08:22 PM
David Droddy

I was telling colleagues about the hookwork stuff and one colleague sent me this link about an asthma cure in India involving ingesting a small, live fish which has been treated with a medication. . .http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/2974810.stm

Apr. 05 2010 01:19 PM
Ron Wasserman

They said goodbye to the children? I hope they were all grown up. Last I looked, his web site was still running.

Apr. 04 2010 11:10 PM
Mark

Yeah - the Federal level of government often hampers progress and solutions - they see themselves as protecting consumers. The beauracratic way in which it operated often stiffles alternative (natural) approaches. Why don't you do a graduate and post grad. degree study, pick up a degree in the subject matter or get other students to perform formal research and start documenting the results in a way that the Feds can accept it. This might open the way for other alternative methods to be integrated into our medical practices. I hope they leave you alone and let people continue to get cured.

Apr. 04 2010 10:44 PM
Sean Selman

The 'American Life' piece on parasites was both the coolest and creepiest story I've heard in a while; loved your segment of the story on Jasper. There's so much we just don't know about the natural world and our place in it -- fascinating.

Apr. 04 2010 08:14 PM
PharmaGuy in New Jersey

As interesting as Jasper's own experiences are, the fact is there is a right way and a wrong way to introduce pharmaceuticals and biologics into the market place. The FDA and CBER have established procedures for drug/biologic evaluation for safety, efficacy, applicability, labeling, the claims that can or cannot be made about any compound or organism or medical device.

These procedures exist for a reason. Think about Thalidomide babies as a nearly worst-case scenario.

Instead of running away, Jasper needs to get a grip and start clinical trials.

Apr. 04 2010 04:18 PM

Jasper's passion for helping people is so simple to him. That simplicity alone is inspiring. I do hope that he can continue to help people - and that some research emerges that can back up what he's doing.

Thank you for finding the story in the first place and for giving a follow-up. I've wondered what happened to him.

Apr. 03 2010 11:34 AM

Not fair.

Apr. 02 2010 11:21 PM

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