Sunday, August 10, 2008

Maggot therapy

Tomorrow we will talk about antibiotics, antibiotic development and antibiotic resistance. The widespread appearance of resistance and the presence of such problematic strains such as MRSA in hospitals has led to a variety of rather old techniques being reconsidered. One of these is maggot therapy and new work published last week suggests that maggots may lead to some new antibiotics.

Maggot therapy is an old idea where fly larvae are used to clean out wounds. This sounds gross but because most fly larvae only feed on dead tissue it is actually a surprisingly effective technique. Some of the most widely documented cases come from the US civil war where numerous cases were observed of soldiers left for days on the battlefield who actually fared better than those who had been in hospital - because fly larvae had debrided their wounds. Certain surgeons, most notably a confederate medical officer, Joseph Jones. started actively using maggots to clean wounds.

"Maggots.. in a single day would clean a wound much better than any agents we had at our command ... I am sure I saved many lives by their use. "

Because of the current problems with antibiotic resistance hundreds of healthcare centers are now investigating and using maggot therapy. UC Irvine is a US hotbed of maggot therapy and has a webpage with all the information, links and references you are likely to need.

Research by British workers published last week describes the isolation of compounds from the maggots that have antibacterial properties.

"Maggots are great little multi-taskers. They produce enzymes that clean wounds, they make a wound more alkaline which may slow bacterial growth and finally they produce a range of antibacterial chemicals that stop the bacteria growing.”

There's a short National Geographic video about Maggot therapy available on YouTube if you want to see some maggots in action. It's not super-gross but be warned it does contain maggots, an open wound, and maggots in an open wound.

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