Maggot Rx

Biotherapy is bringing bugs back to medicine


| May / June 2006


Neosporin no longer taking care of that festering flesh wound? Worried about catching a nasty case of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, the nightmarish superstrain of antibiotic-resistant staph infection, during your next hospital stay? Now you can rest easy: 21st-century medical discoveries are lighting the way to a fester-free future -- by turning back the clock a few hundred years.

Welcome to the old -- and new -- practice of biotherapy, the use of living organisms in medical treatment. National Wildlife (Feb./March 2006) reports that maggots, leeches, and parasitic worms (to name a few) are returning to favor in modern medicine, and they are showing promising results.

Maggots, for example, are being applied to chronic wounds to clean and heal them when more contemporary treatments have failed. Medical maggots work their magic by dissolving and ingesting bacteria and dead tissue in wounds. The process takes between 48 and 72 hours with maggots placed on a wound at a density of five to ten per square centimeter. These dream cleaners have proven especially successful at ridding organisms of stubborn bacterial superstrains.

Perhaps best of all, they are low-risk, noninvasive, and natural. 'The maggots are pretty safe,' says Ronald Sherman, a researcher at the University of California at Irvine, 'certainly compared to alternatives like surgery.'

John Church, an orthopedic surgeon and medical maggot pioneer, told National Geographic News (Oct. 24, 2003) that biotherapy is 'a highly sophisticated natural means of achieving certain ends. Nature's been doing research and development on this for 300 million years.'

The creepy crawly remedies don't stop with maggots. Leeches have returned to premier medical circles as one of the best ways to assist in blood circulation and healing after reconstructive surgery to attach a severed digit. Parasitic worms are being used to treat people who suffer from inflammatory bowel diseases, and saliva from the common vampire bat has led researchers to an anticoagulant that breaks down blood clots in stroke victims.