Scientists at Swansea University in Wales have discovered that maggots may hold the key to fighting superbugs.
The have found a new type of antibiotic in maggot secretions capable of tackling up to 12 different strains of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), as well as Escherichia coli (E. coli) and Clostridium difficile (C.diff).
Around 20 maggots produce one drop of a purified antibiotic.
The new antibiotic Seraticin comes from the maggot secretions of the common green bottle fly and scientists hope to develop it into an injection, pill or ointment.
The antibiotic has been purified and studied and the next step will be to complete the identification of the compound and develop a way to synthesise it; then it can be tested on human cells and eventually used in clinical trials to determine its value as a new antibiotic.
Infections involving MRSA cause suffering, amputations and death, and cost health authorities worldwide billions each year.
Between 2002 and 2006, 6,201 deaths in England and Wales involved MRSA and 15,683 deaths in England and Wales involved C. diff.
An estimated 200,000 people contract potentially fatal infections in Australian hospitals at a cost of $20 million every year, and a recent report has warned that superbugs have the potential to overwhelm hospital systems.
The problem lies in the rapid rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria and means that scientists urgently need to find a solution and using live maggots on infected wounds is an ancient but speedy method of tackling infection.
Chronic infected wounds which have failed to respond to treatment for as long as 18 months, often begin to clear infection in a short time when maggots are applied to the wound and they have even been acknowledged for avoiding limbs being amputated.
Dr. Yolande Harley of Action Medical Research says the discovery of a potential new antibiotic is an exciting advance and could possibly mean a new treatment for people with chronic wounds that are infected with MRSA or other bugs.
Dr. Harley says by developing the pure antibiotic into a formula, such as a cream, it could reduce the contact patients need to have with live maggots to heal wounds and has potential as an injection or pill, for internal infections like C. diff.
Principal researcher Professor Norman Ratcliffe from Swansea University, says the success is the result of a huge team effort but there remains much more work to be done.
Professor Ratcliffe says the next stage will be to confirm its exact identity in order for the antibiotic to be chemically produced on a larger scale.
Dr. Alun Morgan of ZooBiotic who supplied the maggots for the project, says maggots are great multi-taskers capable of producing enzymes that can clean wounds.
The research was funded by the charity Action Medical Research, with support from the Rosetrees Trust.