Autism is a developmental disorder
that appears in the first 3 years of life,
and affects the brain's normal
development of social and
communication skills.

A father’s determination to help his son
resulted in an experimental treatment
for autism that uses roundworms to
modulate inflammatory immune
responses. Can the worms be used to
treat other diseases?

His search would lead him to an idea
that, on its face, might seem just as
farfetched as some of the alternative
autism treatments Stewart calls “junk
science.” He discovered the work of a
trio of physician/researchers at the
University of Iowa who had successfully
treated patients with Crohn’s disease
and ulcerative colitis using a nematode
parasite found in the intestines of
pigs—Trichuris suis, the pig whipworm.
Both are autoimmune disorders in
which the immune system essentially
attacks the intestinal walls.

Stewart also found data that pointed to
a link between some autism symptoms
and inflated levels of proinflamma​tory
cytokines, an apparent result of the
immune system attacking glial cells in
patients’ brains. Putting these bits of
information together, Stewart wrote a
short review paper and presented it to
his son's doctor. His central hypothesis
was that parasitic worm infection would
modulate the son's immune system
and calm inflammation that was
causing his disruptive behaviors.

Stewart and the doctor were reassured
by the behavior of T. suis in the human
gut. Because they have evolved to
infect the guts of pigs, the worms only
colonize humans in a very limited
fashion, are unable to reproduce, and
are flushed out of the system after a
couple of weeks. Like most internal
parasites, T. suis cannot complete its
entire life cycle in only one host, and in
the environment the ova require a 3-
to 6-week incubation in moist soil to
mature, making inadvertent spread of
the parasites to relatives of the autistic
person  unlikely.

After obtaining permission to
administer the treatment from the US
Food and Drug Administration  under
“compassionate use” rules, Stewart  
navigated customs protocols to import
OvaMed’s (a German company)
formulation of T. suis ova, called TSO.

Within 10 weeks of the  treatment, the
autistic boy stopped smashing his
head against walls. He stopped
gouging at his eyes. The paralysis and
frustration that held him and his family
prisoners in their own home lifted. The
freak outs ceased. “It wasn’t
gradations,” remembers Stewart, who
had always kept meticulous notes on
Lawrence’s disorder and the
interventions they had attempted. “It
just went away. All these behaviors just
disappeared.” Elated, Stewart called
Lawrence’s doctor, Eric Hollander. “He
was stunned, because all of that
behavior set was gone,” Stewart says.
“He was speechless, as I was.”

Meanwhile, the son: Lawrence
Johnson, now 20 years old, continues
to respond positively to treatment with
T. suis eggs. Because the parasites
are flushed from his system regularly,
he takes a dose of TSO as his father
sees the need, roughly every two
weeks. Though this costs Stewart and
his family about 600 Euros a month, he
says the treatment has changed their
lives and that it’s well worth the price.
“There’re no words to describe it. It’s
like giving me my son back,” he says.
“Or in many ways, like giving me a son
that I didn’t ever have.”