Perhaps not for the squeamish, maggot debridement therapy (MDT) is a process in which fly larvae, maggots, are applied to non-healing wounds to help promote healing. The maggots eat dead tissue and secrete anti-microbial factors. This process is especially useful for treating diabetic foot ulcers, which have a hard time healing, and not infrequently result in amputation of the affected foot.
Though it may seem weird, even medieval, to use bugs for healing purposes, it’s actually a really interesting, and cost-effective, method that helps to remind us that we’re just a part of the world’s ecosystem, and that we can live in symbiotic relationships with all kinds of animals. Unfortunately, while it helps with healing, MDT doesn’t seem to improve healing time, which is why researchers from North Carolina State University decided to try and genetically modify green bottle fly larvae to help speed the process along.
The goal, which they’ve had some success with, is to make the larvae secrete human platelets derived from grown factor-BB (PDGF-BB), which stimulates cell growth and helps the healing process. Researchers found out that by raising those larvae on a diet that lacked tetracycline, they were able to get maggots with a high level of PDGF-BB: enough to try clinical trials, though they still have work to do and tests to devise before these maggots will be more helpful.
The FDA already approved of MDT, so at this point the goal is to improve the process. Since it’s cost effective, it could be a huge help to poor people struggling with diabetes around the world. Low or middle-income countries tend to have the highest rates of diabetes, and the highest rates of foot ulcers and amputations, so developing a reliable and cheap method to help those people heal would be huge.