IS A WORM LINKED TO PREGNANCY AILMENT? NEW STUDY DOUBTS IT
ANEWLY published report from Britain rebuts an earlier claim made by researchers in Illinois that a common and often fatal disease called toxemia of pregnancy is caused by a tiny worm.
The new report, titled ”The Worm That Wasn’t,” appears in the May 21 issue of The Lancet, a medical journal published in London. The Lancet paper provides scientific evidence to support the doubts expressed earlier this year by several leading parasitologists in response to the claims made in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology by researchers from Loyola Stritch School of Medicine in Chicago, Northwestern University and Northeastern Illinois University.
The Illinois team linked a microorganism, which they named Hydatoxi lualba, to toxemia of pregnancy, which they said caused the deaths of up to five million expectant mothers and fetuses worldwide each year. The organism was identified in studies extending over eight years. The researchers said the organism was a helminth, a worm of the same type as the parasites that caused filariasis and hookworm.
However, a team of four scientists headed by Gillian S. Gau at Queen Charlotte’s Maternity Hospital in London reported that they were unable to reproduce the findings by using the techniques the Illinois team described in their paper. One of the steps in that technique involves exposing the microscope slide containing the samples to concentrated sulfuric acid.
When the London researchers examined specimens from women who did not have toxemia of pregnancy, they found that all showed ”organisms” identical to those described by the Illinois researchers. The London team also found the ”organisms” in all of a series of blood samples from nonpregnant women as well as men.
However, the London researchers further reported that all specimens that were not subjected to the concentrated sulfuric acid failed to show the organisms.
The London researchers concluded that ”clearly these organisms are artifacts,” a term used by scientists to describe an irrelevant finding produced by the conditions of the experiment but having nothing to do with actual biological phenomenon at issue. The London researchers said the artifact was ”produced by the preliminary sulfation.”
As further evidence, the London team reported that when they examined cross-sections of the ”worms” through the conventional microscope as well as the electron microscope, they did not find structures usually found in parasites. Rather, they said, they found empty spaces.
One of the authors of the original report in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology report was Dr. John I. Brewer, an obstetrician at Northwestern University who was also editor in chief of the journal. He had been criticized at the time by some leading parasitologists because he did not send the paper to parasitologists for the customary peer review.
Dr. Brewer said in an interview yesterday that he knew about the Lancet report but no member of his team had seen the specimens prepared in London. ”If they are identical, we would accept the findings,” Dr. Brewer said.
Some American doctors believe the finding represents an artifact, Dr. Brewer said. ”We are publishing a paper with parasitologists saying the long form was artifact and that the round forms could be crystals.”
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