I was just contacted by Karin Hehenberger to join the Scientific Advisory Board of her company, Coronado Biosciences. This company is studying the effects of adminstering non-pathogenic whipworm ova (Trichuris suis; TSO) in a number of autoimmune diseases. They are in a large Phase 2 trial for Crohn’s disease in Europe, and are about to begin a trial on adult autism subjects with Eric Hollander at the Montefiore hospital in New York. Karin send me some papers to illustrate the positive results that have already been obtained for the intestinal diseases of Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis, as well as multiple sclerosis, and in a mouse model of diabetes. A recent review of such studies can be found by Elliott and Weinstock (Univ of Iowa).
Of all these promising studies, the upcoming one for autism is perhaps the most critical yet is based on the softest underpinnings. While there is clear evidence that inflammatory processes are involved in autism, both from post-mortem brain studies showing inflammation, from elevated cytokines in cerebral spinal fluid from living subjects, and from abnormalities in the peripheral immune system, we don’t really know if autism falls into the category of an autoimmune disorder. There is suggestive evidence of anti-brain antibodies being present in a subset of patients, as in PANDAS, but we need to know more along these lines. Of course, for TOS therapy to work, an actual autoimmunity may not need to be present; it may be sufficient to simply correct immune imbalances.
In that light, our own laboratory will be publishing 3 papers relevant to some of these issues in the coming months, and we can discuss them when there are out – some pretty dramatic results in both our mouse and our monkey models of maternal immune activation – models based on the epidemiological findings that infection during pregnancy increases the risk for autism and schizophrenia in the offspring (see my book for details on this).