A Moment of Science

The Magic of Maggots

Here’s some good news for maggots.

These tiny wormlike fly larvae have the distinction of being the first live animals to get FDA approval for use as a medical device.

You see, maggots eat dead tissue but don’t harm living tissue. This makes them ideal for cleaning out wounds that just won’t heal. What’s even better is that as they chew away, maggots also secrete a substance that kills bacteria and stimulates the growth of healthy tissue. Doctors simply drop the maggots into the wound and cover them with a special mesh to keep them in place. After two or three days, when the maggots have eaten their fill, the doctors remove them, repeating the whole process if necessary.

Maggots are also more effective than surgery. One study shows that maggots removed all dead tissue from a wound about 80 percent of the time, which is only the case with 48 percent of wounds where dead tissue is removed through surgery.

Both in terms of efficacy, and in terms of overall cost. Take diabetic food ulcers for instance. These strike about six hundred thousand people annually, and may lead to amputation. It’s not unusual to spend tens of thousands of dollars treating these wounds. Now, with FDA approval, instead of costly surgery, doctors can simply use maggots. Heartwarming, isn’t it?

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