About 20 brave Cantabrians have volunteered to be infected with hookworm parasites in an effort to find a cure for coeliac disease.

An Australian pilot study discovered people with severe gluten allergies who were also infected with hookworms did not have reactions when they ate gluten.

A group of Christchurch researchers have just received a $20,000 from the Lottery Grants Board to start a similar trial.

They hope to find out exactly how the hookworms prevent the allergic reactions, so they can turn that substance into a pill.


Otago University gastroenterology professor Richard Gearry said extreme cases of coeliac disease could have a major affect on people's quality of life, and he was hopeful the trial could help find a cure.

But even if a cure was discovered, he said it would take a long time to reach shelves.

"We are talking years, because the pipeline for a new drug is at least 10 years," he said.

Severe hookworm infections can cause problems such as iron deficiencies, but he said there were few risks when the infection was controlled.

The new grant, which was organised through the Bowel and Liver Trust, will allow more specific research on the microbes in the samples, which could lead to other angles on the work.

He said about 70 Cantabrians had gone to an information evening last month, and about 20 had joined the trial.

Spaces are still available in the trial programme.