A Griffith University project investigating the production and use of maggots for therapeutic medicinal purposes in conflict and other compromised healthcare settings has been recommended for a $250,000 funding grant by Humanitarian Grand Challenge Canada.

The project — the full title of which is Developing maggot-debridement therapy for effective wound care in Afghanistan, South Sudan, Syria, and Yemen — was submitted to the Creating Hope in Conflict: A Humanitarian Grand Challenge competition by project leader, Adjunct Research Fellow and PhD candidate Frank Stadler, of the Department of International Business and Asian Studies and the School of Medicine.

It was among 615 international submissions received by organising body Grand Challenges Canada, and involves the efforts of a multidisciplinary team of researchers from across the University.

Mr Stadler says the project was a natural fit for the Creating Hope in Conflict funding brief, with the challenge taking place “against the backdrop of insufficient and ineffective medical supplies and services in conflict”.

“The Humanitarian Grand Challenge seeks solutions that enable non-expert people to provide quality care, empower skilled staff, allow faster and less costly provision of essential health supplies, and enable affected communities to manufacture their own medicinal goods,” he said.

“Our solutions for maggot therapy and the production of medicinal maggots in conflict tick all these boxes.

“We felt confident that we can make a real contribution to life- and limb-saving wound care in conflict.”

Maggot therapy, which is the use of live fly larvae to remove dead tissue, control infection and promote healing, has been practised over thousands of years by many cultures, including Australian Aboriginal people.

In the past, the healing properties of medicinal maggots have been noted in several theatres of war, including the Napoleonic War and the United States Civil War, but the therapeutic use of medicinal maggots in modern medicine was pioneered by the American orthopaedic surgeon William S. Baer, who witnessed the beneficial action of maggots on the wounds of soldiers in World War I.

Although not yet a mainstream medical treatment in Australia, maggot therapy is actually remarkably effective for most wound types encountered in disaster and conflict, and is ideally suited for use in such compromised healthcare settings.

Stadler and his colleagues published two studies in which they demonstrate that maggot therapy is feasible for the treatment of wounds in disaster medicineand that medicinal maggots could be sent to remote areas using drone transport.

In approaching the conflict-zone problem, the researchers say they will develop and test both a shipping container lab (aka C-lab) for large-volume medicinal maggot production and smaller do-it-yourself production set-ups (DIY-lab), which affected communities can build and operate themselves.

“Modern conflict and disaster medicine relies on rapid evacuation of the injured to highly resourced hospitals with surgical and advanced wound care, which is impossible in hard-to-reach areas and isolated field hospitals,” Mr Stadler said.

“These communities need local wound care options that are affordable, accessible, efficacious and easy to use.

“Local production of medicinal maggots with our C-labs and DIY-labs will permit safe and easy-to-administer maggot therapy by non-surgeon medics and even laypersons.”

Mr Stadler says his team were inspired to propose this project because they believe that maggot therapy is “perfectly suited for the austere healthcare environment” and because their unique mix of skills and qualifications can deliver this innovative healthcare solution to underserved populations the world over.

Maggot therapy in both modern and compromised healthcare settings has the potential to make a “real difference”, he says.

“We noted with astonishment the complete absence of research and development in the context of humanitarian logistics and supply-chain management,” he said.

“This motivated us to undertake the first comprehensive research of supply-chain management for maggot therapy in compromised healthcare settings. We have now grown to a multidisciplinary team with expertise in maggot therapy, film, illustration, design, microbiology, disaster management and humanitarian logistics.

“Our mission is to save lives and limbs, and bring hope to the wounded and their families.”

For more information about the Humanitarian Grand Challenge, see its website.

Check the Griffith Research Repository for further details about Mr Stadler’s team’s work on maggot therapy.