“Maggot debridement” sounds like something a contestant on TV's “Fear Factor” would endure -- not a diabetes patient. But recent scientific findings point to the crawling creatures as the best method of healing diabetic wounds.
“These problem patients with diabetes really need better treatments in order to salvage their limbs,” said Lawrence Eron, who, with colleagues from Kaiser Hospital and the University of Hawaii in Honolulu, presented a report on the not-so-appetizing subject at a conference in Chicago. “Maggot-debridement treatment is overwhelmingly effective. After just one treatment, these wounds start looking better.”
Eron and his team treated 37 diabetics with the maggots. All of the patients in the study had open sores — some as old as five years — because of an arterial disease that causes poor circulation in the limbs.
Up to 100 maggots were placed on each patient’s wound and were left there for two days, after which, they applied a new batch of maggots.
“We cage the maggots in a mesh-like material,” Eron said. “Nylon pantyhose might be used. And then we seal them so they don't get out.”
He said secretions by the maggots enable connective tissue to form and grow, healing the wound. Twenty-one of the 39 patients had successful outcomes, while some of the others did not benefit from the treatment and experienced inflammation, bleeding, and infection.
The findings have not yet been reviewed by independent researchers.
“A lot of patients might be somewhat wary of having live insects placed into their wounds, so we explain how it works and what possible problems might occur," Eron said. “After this, we go on to do further treatment…. But to get to the point where these treatments will work, you really need to clean up the wound, get rid of dead tissue, and get robust granulation tissue into the wound — and this is where the maggots help.”