Monday, February 05, 2007

Diet of Worms

Another tidbit from the forefront of medicine which reminds one of the backwaters of medicine:

New research has shown that in patients with multiple sclerosis, the progress of the disease is slowed by parasitic worms. Yes, really. Investigators in Argentina recently published their findings in the Annals of Neurology (DOI
10.1002/ana.21067)

This should be welcome news here in Oregon, which (last I heard) has the one of the highest rates of MS in the United States. In addition, OHSU has a long and distinguished history of research into MS, from Dr. Roy Swank's MS diet to the current work of Dr. Dennis Bourdette in the Multiple Sclerosis Center of Oregon.

Parastic worms hereby join leeches in the ranks of gross but useful creatures. For centuries, leeches were used for bloodletting purposes, bloodletting being the main therapy of choice for, well, just about everything under the sun. Leeches remain in use today, but in a more limited capacity, especially for wound healing and tissue grafts. The leech has been so entwined with medicine that there is actually a species of leech called Hirudo medicinalis. Yes, really.

At some point, medical practitioners did try to mechanize the bloodletting action of the leech, creating "artificial leeches" to draw blood effectively. We have one of these man-made leeches in the Medical Museum Collection. Looking at the business end of the artificial leech, I might be tempted to opt for one of the real little bloodsuckers.

[Ok, lastly, I must admit I didn't come up with today's clever blog title on my own. Credit is due to the headline writers at New Scientist
, where I first saw an announcement of this new research. For those not as familiar with the history of the early modern period, more information on the real Diet of Worms can be found in Wikipedia.]

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