Maggots are to be sure not one of nature’s most pleasant creations. As an example, would you rather come across a swarm of maggots on a dead piece of animal flesh or a young doe prancing across a meadow? Yet, it is precisely the former, the maggots, which provide a “natural” way of cleaning up wounds.
A recent study in which 37 diabetics with non healing leg wounds were treated, yes I mean intentionally exposed to maggots, illustrates the point. Diabetics, because of reasons of poor circulation and weakened immune systems, are predisposed to ulcers. The lower extremities are usually the location, as poor circulation affects this area most often and because small cuts are more likely to occur on the legs than say on the arms.
Maggots, it turns out, consume only dead or devitalized tissue. This leaves healthy tissue to regenerate the wound. All of the patients in this study had received multiple antibiotics and some had undergone surgeries. Their wounds were simply not healing. The risk of course was amputation, which unfortunately occurs all too often from non healing diabetic ulcers.
The maggots were left on the wounds to do their thing. 27 out of the original 37 improved well enough to avoid further surgeries, antibiotics or amputation. Not bad, considering antibiotics, surgeries and amputations all have some serious side effects.
If these maggots work so well, why not start with the maggots and hold off on antibiotics and surgeries? Well, I think that down the road these little creatures might just be used that way. For those who are concerned that the maggots might propagate, only sterile maggots are used.
Another treatment using living things involves worms. A certain species Trichuris suis is being used to treat patients with ulcerative colitis. Worm eggs are ingested and mature in the large bowel. This causes the body to react. One of the defenses involve production of a protective mucosal layer, which in turns may help stave off the inflammation. The worms are unable to mature sexually in human hosts and thus cannot reproduce.
Who hasn’t heard of our friend lactobacillus, which is being used to prevent and treat all kinds of intestinal ailments?
In the not too distant future medical care might just involve live agents such as bacteria, worms and maggots as alternatives or even replacements for some antibiotics and surgeries. For some the thought of maggots and worms in or on our bodies is not pleasant, but neither are multiple antibiotics, surgeries and at times amputations.