Safety and tolerability of experimental hookworm infection in humans with metabolic disease: study protocol for a phase 1b randomised controlled clinical trial

BMC Endocr Disord. 2019 Dec 11;19(1):136. doi: 10.1186/s12902-019-0461-5.


Background: Abdominal obesity and presence of the metabolic syndrome (MetS) significantly increase the risk of developing diseases such as Type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) with escalating emergence of MetS and T2DM constituting a significant public health crisis worldwide. Lower prevalence of inflammatory and metabolic diseases such as T2DM in countries with higher incidences of helminth infections suggested a potential role for these parasites in the prevention and management of certain diseases. Recent studies confirmed the potential protective nature of helminth infection against MetS and T2DM via immunomodulation or, potentially, alteration of the intestinal microbiota. This Phase 1b safety and tolerability trial aims to assess the effect of inoculation with helminths on physical and metabolic parameters, immune responses, and the microbiome in otherwise healthy women and men.

Methods: Participants eligible for inclusion are adults aged 18-50 with central obesity and a minimum of one additional feature of MetS recruited from the local community with a recruitment target of 54. In a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled design, three groups will receive either 20 or 40 stage three larvae of the human hookworm Necator americanus or a placebo. Eligible participants will provide blood and faecal samples at their baseline and 6-monthly assessment visits for a total of 24 months with an optional extension to 36 months. During each scheduled visit, participants will also undergo a full physical examination and complete diet (PREDIMED), physical activity, and patient health (PHQ-9) questionnaires. Outcome measurements include tolerability and safety of infection with Necator americanus, changes in metabolic and immunological parameters, and changes in the composition of the faecal microbiome.

Discussion: Rising cost of healthcare associated with obesity-induced metabolic diseases urgently calls for new approaches in disease prevention. Findings from this trial will provide valuable information regarding the potential mechanisms by which hookworms, potentially via alterations in the microbiota, may positively influence metabolic health.

Trial registration: The protocol was registered on on 05 June 2017 with identifier ACTRN12617000818336. Alternatively, a Google search using the above trial registration number will yield a direct link to the trial protocol within the ANZCTR website.

Keywords: Human microbiota; Metabolic syndrome; Necator americanus; Obesity; Type 2 diabetes mellitus; Type 2 immune response.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial, Phase I
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / prevention & control
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Feces / microbiology
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / physiology
  • Humans
  • Immunomodulation
  • Larva
  • Male
  • Metabolic Syndrome / immunology
  • Metabolic Syndrome / microbiology
  • Metabolic Syndrome / therapy*
  • Middle Aged
  • Necator americanus
  • Necatoriasis* / immunology
  • Necatoriasis* / microbiology
  • Obesity / complications*
  • Placebos
  • Queensland
  • Therapy with Helminths / adverse effects
  • Therapy with Helminths / methods*
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Placebos