Maggot Medicine

The healing powers of maggots may lie in their secreted proteins, which restrain the human immune response.

Dec 10, 2012
Beth Marie Mole

Flickr, Cory DoctorowDoctors have recruited squirming maggots to clean gapping gashes for centuries, and in 2004, the US Food and Drug Administration approved the fly larvae as a treatment. But, until recently, no one knew how the maggots helped heal wounds. In a study published earlier this year (October 30) in Wound Repairs and Regeneration, researchers found that maggots secrete proteins to suppress the human immune system, thereby stifling damaging inflammation.

“This research advances our understanding of how and why maggot therapy helps wounds heal faster,” pathologist Ronald Sherman, board chair of the BioTherapeutics, Education and Research Foundation in Irvine, California, who was not involved in the study, told ScienceNOW.

The researchers, led by Gwendolyn Cazander of Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands, mixed donated blood samples from preoperative and post-operative patients with secretions from maggots, and found that the maggot secretions reduced proteins involved in the inflammation response by more than 99 percent. Moreover, they found that the maggot discharge actually degraded immune system proteins.

Cazander told ScienceNOW that the results didn’t surprise her, explaining that the maggots likely do this to protect themselves from being attacked by the immune system. Her team is now working to identify immune-suppressing compounds from the maggots, which could point to new drugs for healing wounds.