Modified maggots could help human wound healing

March 23, 2016 by Mick Kulikowski
Modified maggots could help human wound healing
Genetically modified green bottle flies produce and secrete a human growth factor that helps wound healing. Credit: Max Scott

In a proof-of-concept study, NC State University researchers show that genetically engineered green bottle fly (Lucilia sericata) larvae can produce and secrete a human growth factor - a molecule that helps promote cell growth and wound healing.

Sterile, lab-raised green bottle fly larvae are used for maggot debridement therapy (MDT), in which maggots are applied to non-healing wounds, especially , to promote healing. Maggots clean the wound, remove dead tissue and secrete anti-microbial factors. The treatment is cost-effective and approved by the Food and Drug Administration. However, there is no evidence from that MDT shortens wound healing times.

With the goal of making a strain of maggots with enhanced wound-healing activity, NC State researchers genetically engineered maggots to produce and then secrete human platelet derived growth factor-BB (PDGF-BB), which is known to aid the healing process by stimulating and survival.

Max Scott, an NC State professor of entomology, and colleagues from NC State and Massey University in New Zealand used two different techniques to elicit PDGF-BB from green bottle .

One technique utilized heat to trigger the production of PDGF-BB in transgenic green bottle flies. The technique worked - to a point. The human growth factor was detectable in certain structures within the larvae after the larvae were shocked with high heat - a level of 37 degrees Celsius - but PDGF-BB was not detectable in maggot excretions or secretions, making it unworthy of clinical use.

"It is helpful to know that a heat-inducible system can work for certain proteins in the green bottle fly, but the fact that maggots did not secrete the human makes this technique a non-starter for clinical applications like MDT," Scott said.

The second technique was more successful. Scott and colleagues engineered the flies such that they only made PDGF-BB if raised on a diet that lacked the antibiotic tetracycline. PDGF-BB was made at high levels in the larvae and was found in the excretions and secretions of , making the technique a potential candidate for clinical use.

"A vast majority of people with diabetes live in low- or middle-income countries, with less access to expensive treatment options," Scott said. "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."

The study was published online in the journal BMC Biotechnology.

Explore further: Researchers use maggots to heal diabetic wounds

More information: Rebecca J. Linger et al. Towards next generation maggot debridement therapy: transgenic Lucilia sericata larvae that produce and secrete a human growth factor, BMC Biotechnology (2016). DOI: 10.1186/s12896-016-0263-z

Related Stories

Researchers use maggots to heal diabetic wounds

September 27, 2011

(Medical Xpress) -- At the recent Interscience Conference on Anti-Microbial Agents and Chemotherapy, Dr. Lawrence Eron from the University of Hawaii presented his results on the use of maggots to heal diabetic wounds. The ...

Blood protein EPO involved in origin and spread of cancer

December 5, 2011

Researchers at the Swedish medical university Karolinska Institutet have demonstrated that a growth hormone, PDGF-BB, and the blood protein EPO are involved in the development of cancer tumours and that they combine to help ...

Recommended for you

Rac1 protein critical for lung development

October 20, 2016

A study by researchers from The Saban Research Institute of Children's Hospital Los Angeles reveals a promising therapeutic target for improving lung function in infants. Their study, now published online by the American ...

A vitamin could help treat Duchenne muscular dystrophy

October 19, 2016

Duchenne is the most common and severe form of muscular dystrophy. Because of this genetic disease, one out of every 3,500 children spends their 12th birthday in a wheelchair. This disorder progressively leads to general ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.