Washington: We owe our health to the vast city of microbes hidden inside our bodies.
Hundreds of species of them inhabit us, and the term "microbiome" refers to their collective genes.
Even though scientists are just beginning to map it, many researchers believe the microbiome affects our health-and when it`s unbalanced it predisposes us to numerous autoimmune diseases.
Is our sterile Western environment-which has rid our bodies of many kinds of bacteria-to blame for this?
One person who has thought hard about this question is Karin Hehenberger.
At 16, she was a rising star on the international tennis circuit. Playing for the Swedish National team, she was competing almost professionally.
Then Type 1 diabetes came calling, derailing her tennis career and changing the course of her life.
Today, armed with both Ph.D. and M.D. degrees, a new kidney from her father and a transplanted pancreas, she is diabetes-free and determined to help others either cope with or avoid what she could not: the unexplained onset and destructive power of autoimmune diseases.
Now, Chief Medical Officer of Coronado Biosciences, Hehenberger believes the theory about microbiota is related to the "hygiene hypothesis"-the notion that there is a direct link between elevated rates of autoimmune diseases and Western society`s obsession to establish germ-free environments.
Could repopulating our guts with microbes-and thereby re-establishing a healthy balance to our microbiome-help address this problem?
Coronado believes that it can, and points to several ongoing clinical trials that have shown that such treatment may be safe and effective.
One approach comes in the form of a treatment involving Trichuris suis ova (TSO)-pig whipworm eggs.
Studies have shown that once the treatment (purified eggs suspended in a tablespoon of saline solution) has been swallowed by a patient, the eggs take up residence in the gut and regulate the immune system in a way that may reduce a range of symptoms without any harmful side effects.
The TSO does not multiply in humans outside of the gastrointestinal tract, nor does it enter the bloodstream.
There are trials underway in Crohn`s disease, multiple sclerosis and autism, and others set to begin in ulcerative colitis, psoriasis, type-1 diabetes and other immune-mediated diseases.