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These genetically modified maggots excrete a growth protein that helps wounds heal faster

Researchers working with genetically engineered maggots have made an exciting discovery that could change how we treat wounds. The team, comprised of scientists from NC State and Massey University in New Zealand, has created a strain of green bottle fly (Lucilia sericata) larvae capable of producing a human growth factor in detectable amounts. This growth factor could accelerate wound healing, especially in patients with diabetes and other conditions that produce persistent ulcers and sores.

The term maggot may sound distasteful, but the little critters can play a significant role in clinical situations. Sterile, lab-raised version of the green bottle fly larvae are sometimes used in maggot debridement therapy (MDT), a technique that stimulates healing by removing dead tissue and cleansing a wound. MBT is approved by the FDA, but clinical studies of the technique have shown little to no improvement in healing following this course of treatment.

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Scientists are hoping to improve the effectiveness of this method by genetically engineering to create a strain of super-healing maggots. These maggots were engineered to produce human platelet-derived growth factor-BB (PDGF-BB), which stimulates cell growth and healing. One strain of the maggot was found to have PDGF-BB in its cells, secretions and excretions, suggesting they could be used as clinical treatment option in areas that lack access to high-tech medical treatments

“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,” said NC State professor of entomology Max Scott. The researchers published their results from their proof-of-concept study in BMC Biotechnology.