Fighting infection with an unlikely superhero

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Medicine today is incredible. We can splice genes together, implant robotic limbs and make babies outside of the womb. But in a world of cutting-edge medical technology, sometimes researchers find the most remarkable innovation comes from nature.

Maggots have been used in wound treatment since antiquity. When applied to human tissue, live maggots effectively clean out dead or infected tissue. History shows that Maya Native Americans, Australian Aboriginals and the Renaissance Italians all used maggots in early medicine, and they are still used today.

Maggots don’t deserve their bad name, claims Deakin University entomologist, Natalie Gasz. Her work explores the potential of maggots to clean infected wounds, such as diabetic ulcers and pressure sores. She believes this could be extended to fight other chronic external infections with the bacteria that live inside maggots – including the creation of ‘infection specific’ maggots.

‘With increasing resistance to many antibiotics and the growing threat of super bugs, maggots offer tremendous promise,’ she says. ‘There are over 900 bacterial species that live within wild flies and maggots, which kill anything that may harm them. Currently, maggots are sterilised before they are put on a wound, but their bacterial sidekicks could actually provide better healing.’

Ms Gasz feels no squeamishness about maggots and argues it is time we rethink our attitude. ‘Most people feel repelled by maggots because of the locations they are found in, like rubbish tips and compost bins, but when they are in a sterile lab, they are quite clean,’ she said. ‘It’s also fun and a challenge trying to change people’s perceptions about them.’

Watch Ms Gasz’ three-minute thesis about maggots to find out more about these medical ‘superheroes’:

Find out more about research in Deakin University’s School of Life and Environmental Sciences. Ms Gasz won the Deakin University three-minute thesis competition in 2015, watch more of the presentations here.

 

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Natalie Gasz
Natalie Gasz

Casual Academic, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University
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