Former UC Irvine Professor Ronald A. Sherman is making new headlines using an old technique: maggot therapy. Although the practice of maggot treatment dates back many centuries, recent scientific studies generated by Sherman have spawned a renewed interest in the procedure.
Maggots are selective eaters, so they will eat dead flesh while leaving the live tissue intact. This makes them excellent wound cleaners because they are able to remove dead and infected skin on open sores without slowing the growth of new skin.
A recent study in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) compared maggot therapy to other mainstream treatments. The research team followed the progress of 270 leg ulcer patients and found that the maggots were actually able to clean out the dead skin faster than traditional ulcer therapy. However, they did not decrease the overall rate of recovery, and they seemed to be more painful.
“In people with leg ulcers, we didn’t find that larval therapy increased healing rates,” said Nicky Cullum of the Department of Health Sciences at the University of York. “It cleans it more quickly, but it didn’t heal it more quickly. It comes down to the aim of treatment. If for some reason rapid debridement is important, then you would choose larval therapy — for example if someone was having a skin graft.”
Sherman has studied this treatment for most of his career. He co-authored his first paper on the subject as a medical student in 1983, predicting that it would make a comeback in future years.
“The significant need for better wound care, and the dramatic efficacy of the maggots have increased demand,” Sherman told the BMJ. “We’ve done no advertising. It’s been word of mouth plus my clinical research papers.”
In 2003, he started a non-profit corporation called BioTherapeutics, Education & Research Foundation (BTER). This company is one of the leading research corporations in the field of symbiotic medicine.
Sherman is also the medical director at Monarch Labs, which works closely with BTER. In 2005, Monarch became the sole supplier of medical grade maggots since 1935.
Although some are disgusted by the idea of live maggots being placed on them, patients seem to be surprisingly receptive.
“One thing we did find is that patients were not put off … The patients were very enthusiastic,” said Pam Mitchell of BTER.
Although this use of maggot larvae seems to be a promising technique, the next step will be the development of a maggot therapy that achieves quicker overall healing results than conventional treatment.
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