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Genetically modified maggots help with human wound healing

Before you turn away in disgust, the larvae haven’t actually been used to heal human wounds. The study was what is described as a “proof-of-concept” trial. This means the realization of a certain method or idea to demonstrate its feasibility. A proof of concept study is usually small and may or may not be complete.

Researchers have demonstrated that a genetically engineered green bottle fly (Lucilia sericata), in the larval form (that is, maggots), can produce and secrete a human growth factor. This is a molecule that potentially helps promote cell growth and wound healing.

This is based on animal models. Here maggot debridement therapy was trialed, which involved using the maggots to heal simulations of diabetic foot ulcers. The maggots effectively cleaned the wound, removed dead tissue and secreted anti-microbial factors. In addition, by virtue of being genetically altered, the maggots successfully secreted a human platelet derived growth factor-BB (PDGF-BB.) This growth factor regulates cell growth and division. In particular, it is thought to play a significant role in blood vessel formation.

While the results are interesting, approval from a regulatory body like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would be required before such maggot therapy became approved for use in the medical setting. Further trials, including those involving people, would be needed before such a process became mainstream.

The research was undertaken at North Carolina State University and the findings have been reported to the journal BMC Biotechnology, in a paper titled “Towards next generation maggot debridement therapy: transgenic Lucilia sericata larvae that produce and secrete a human growth factor.”

Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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