Genetically modified maggots may actually be able to help heal wounds, as a group of scientists from N.C. State and Massey University in New Zealand have genetically engineered a green bottle fly larva that can produce and secrete a human growth factor, which helps promote cell growth and wound healing.
The team used lab-raised green bottle fly larvae, which are actually already used in medicine. These larvae are usually applied to non-healing wounds, especially diabetic foot ulcers. They will clean the wound, remove dead tissue and secrete anti-microbial factors. However, it wasn't until this latest study that larvae have been able to help speed the healing process.
The researchers decided to see if they could create a strain of maggots with enhanced wound-healing activity. To do so, they genetically engineered maggots to produce and then secrete human platelet derived growth factor-BB (PDGF-BB). This factor is known for helping the healing process by stimulating cell growth.
In order to cause the larvae to produce PDGF-BB, the researchers used two different techniques. The first trigger was heat, and while it worked somewhat, the researchers couldn't detect PDGF-BB in excretions or secretions, which meant that they couldn't use it clinically.
The second method involved engineering the flies so that they would only produce PDGF-BB if they were raised on a diet that lacked the antibiotic tetracycline. The researchers found that the larvae produced PDGF-BB in both their secretions and excretions, which means that they hope they'll be able to use the larvae in the future.
"A vast majority of people with diabetes live in low- or middle-income countries, with less access to expensive treatment options," entomology professor and lead study author Max Scott said. "We see this as a proof-of-principle study for the future development of engineered L. sericata strains that express a variety of growth factors and anti-microbial peptides with the long-term aim of developing a cost-effective means for wound treatment that could save people from amputation and other harmful effects of diabetes."
The findings are a good step in the right direction when it comes to finding treatments for those suffering from diabetes. If researchers can create a larva that can help with wound healing, it could help people around the world.
The findings are published in the March 22 issue of the journal BMC Biotechnology.