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Anything for science: Infects himself with worms

University of Copenhagen veterinary professor infects himself with parasites for a science side-project

“Doing this is really great, I am having lot’s of fun and it is very fascinating”.

The words of University of Copenhagen professor Peter Nejsum who two years ago infected himself with a special type of worm, trichuris, to find out how long it takes to process from infection to diagnosis.

Peter Nejsum, who works at the Department of Parasitology and Aquatic Diseases, still has the worms in his body and hopes to advance medical understanding. The worms can grow to four-to-five centimetres long.

“Critics say the study will not be representative. Of course, my own results might not necesarily apply to every other human, but it can help to get more precise knowledge,” he says to the University Post.

Two years ago Nejsum infected himself with the parasites

Human guinea pig

“It’s very interesting in my case that the worms are so successful. They have now remained in my body for over two years,” says Nejsum.

Parasites are normally very difficult to control and they remain within their host. Nejsum’s experiment aims to understand how the parasite manipulates the immune response of the host. Ethical concerns prohibit Nejsum from testing on anyone but himself.

Normally the experiments are performed on pigs, but their immune system reacts different than the human one, he explains. Unlike a pig, the worm can affect chronic infections in humans.

The parasite is known as a ‘whipworm’ or by its scientific name ‘trichuris’

No serious problems thus far

It’s the second time Nejsum has infected himself with the parasites. The first time he suffered stomach pain after a few months and needed treatment to get rid of the worms. The second time around, they have been in his body for 2 years without any serious problems, so he has decided so far not to treat himself for them.

… some humans could need worms to work against serious illnesses like multiple sclerosis.

While Nejsum is aware of potential health consequences, there is a treatment should he suffer any problems.

“I also got some requests from people who suffer an illness without knowing possible therapies, who wanted to test it,” he says.

Worms could get to work against more serious illnesses

Nejsum isn’t fazed. Quite the opposite, he cautions others against an excessively sterile lifestyle.

“Some humans could need worms to work against serious illnesses like multiple sclerosis.”

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