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Last Updated: Monday, 1 December, 2003, 00:37 GMT
Turning maggots into wound drugs
Larvae of Lucilia sericata being grown in the lab
Maggots help healing by eating dead tissue
British scientists are trying to develop a drug which will harness the benefits of so-called maggot therapy without any of the mess.

A growing number of UK hospitals use maggots to help patients' wounds heal more quickly.

Studies have shown that maggots speed up healing by eating dead tissue while leaving healthy tissue alone.

Researchers at Exeter University have set up a company to try to develop a drug that will do the same thing.

Popular treatment

Maggot or larvae therapy was first used in the 1930s. However, the advent of antibiotics and improvements in surgery saw the maggots being sidelined.

Given that it is often difficult to control the maggots and patients' aversion to the therapy, this is perhaps unsurprising.

What we are trying to do is to take the maggot out of the equation
Dr Jamie Stevens,
University of Exeter
However, the rapid-rise in antibiotic resistance has seen maggot therapy win new followers. The treatment has gained in popularity over the past 10 years.

Dr Jamie Stevens, a Wellcome Trust fellow, and colleagues at the University of Exeter are trying to see if they can harness the qualities of some maggots to create a new type of drug to help wounds heal. They are working with Exeter-based company BioElf.

They are focusing on the secretions from sheep blowflies. They believe these secretions can be collected, freeze-dried and turned into a powder which can be applied more easily onto wounds.

"What we are trying to do is to take the maggot out of the equation," Dr Stevens told BBC News Online.

"We are currently testing a cocktail against bacteria. We are hoping to go into initial trials within the year."

An effective drug would be popular. Hospital acquired infections, which are becoming increasingly difficult to treat with antibiotics, affect 300,000 NHS patients each year.

An estimated 5,000 of these will die as a result of their infection. It costs the NHS in the region of 1bn annually.

Maggots heal hospital wounds
27 Feb 03  |  Northern Ireland
Maggot medicine gains popularity
06 Apr 02  |  Health
Maggots could save NHS money
17 Jul 00  |  Wales

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