HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – It's a new take on a therapy once used in biblical times.
Maggots have been found to help heal the severe wounds of diabetic patients, and the research is being done right here in Hawaii. We go beyond the "yuck" factor to see how it all works.
They're creepy and crawly, yes, but they could be the answer to helping diabetics with their severe ulcers. Doctor Lawrence Eron, an associate professor at the University of Hawaii John Burns School of Medicine, studied the effects of maggots on open wounds.
"The maggots are able to de-breed or remove tissue that is dead without harming the living tissue. This sort of specific kind of therapy is very helpful in allowing wounds to heal, but they do more than that," says Dr. Eron. "They also secrete various substances into the wounds that are responsible for excellent tissue growth and healing."
In 21 of 27 patients, medical-grade larvae helped close wounds of diabetics. Some of those sores had been open for up to five years. Nurse practitioner, Missy Marineau, is on the research team. "The larvae therapy was able to, not only help in the infection, but also to bring good blood flow to the area. The pictures that were shown (of graphic, open sores) previously demonstrated how necrotic, how black the tissue was in the beginning of larvae therapy and by the end, it's pink and healthy."
Maggot treatment is an age-old therapy, but with the advent of antibiotics in the 1940's, their use dropped dramatically. Marineau is surprised that, for patients, there isn't really much of that 'eww factor'. That's because, when there is the risk of a dramatic procedure such as an amputation, the patients educate themselves and become open to anything.
"I would say at least half of the patients have already been introduced to this and are familiar with it. It's amazing how savvy our patient population is now and how much they research, especially when they are looking at amputations, of how readily they go to the internet and to the media for other remedies," says Marineau.
Diabetes affects millions of people in the U.S., and the state health department estimates between 70 thousand and 100 thousand people in Hawaii suffer from the disease.
One thing to keep in mind: these are medical-grade maggots - grown in a lab and germ-free. Doctor Eron warns people to, obviously, not try treating wounds with ordinary maggots.