A tapeworm in the brain of a 50-year-old man is stunning scientists who have found the tapeworm to be the longest-ever recorded tapeworm in a man’s brain. The discovery has led to an intensive study by researchers, and on Friday, Nov. 21, scientists from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute outside of Cambridge, England, published the story of the tapeworm in the 50-year-old British man’s brain in the journal Genome Biology.
According to the publication, the tapeworm Spirometra erinaceieuropaei had grown and migrated across the man’s brain over a four-year period. The man, who is being identified as a 50-year-old man of Chinese ethnicity from East of England, had lived in the UK for 20 years but had frequently returned to China for visits.
During the four years that the tapeworm lived in his brain, the main reported symptoms of headaches, seizures, episodes of altered smell, memory flashbacks, memory impairment, and progressive right-sided pain. Exams taken by doctors at St Thomas’ Hospital in London included biopsies, HIV, lime disease, and syphilis tests, but none of them turned out to be positive.
In 2012, after four years, doctors finally discovered a 10 centimeter (3.94 inches) ribbon-shaped larval worm. Once doctors could identify the tapeworm in the man’s brain, drugs were administered, the worm killed, and the man was able to completely recover. MRIs taken of the man’s brain showed that the tapeworm had migrated at least 5 centimeters (nearly 2 inches) from the right hemisphere through the thalamus into the left brain hemisphere.
“A second biopsy, from the left thalamus, showed granulomatous inflammation, focal necrosis and a ~10 cm ribbon-shaped cestode larval worm without mouthparts or hooklets.”
According to The Telegraph, the tapeworm Spirometra erinaceieuropaei has only occurred 300 times worldwide since 1953. This is the first case ever reported in the UK. Infection of the tapeworm can occur (though rare) by consuming crustaceans from lakes, eating raw meat from reptiles and amphibians, or by using a raw frog poultice – a Chinese remedy to calm sore eyes.
The tapeworm found in the man’s brain in England is being used by scientists to learn more about the dangerous parasite. Scientists have sequenced the genome of the worm and are using its DNA to determine the most effective course of drug treatments. “For this uncharted group of tapeworms, this is the first genome to be sequenced and has allowed us to make some predictions about the likely activity of known drugs,” says Dr Matt Berriman, senior author and member of Faculty of the Sanger Institute.