New disease epidemics call for old-school approaches
As conditions like type 2 diabetes began to grow more common in the 1980s, physicians like Ron Sherman in California saw increasing numbers of patients with wounds that refused to heal. He remembered learning about chronic wounds and the archaic-sounding maggot therapy when he was fresh out of medical school. Far from being a historical backwater, maggot therapy sounded exactly like what his chronic wound patients needed.
But there was a problem: US labs were no longer producing medical-grade maggots commercially. If he wanted to do more maggot therapy, he was going to have to breed his own.
Finding maggots is easy but, as Sherman discovered, finding the right maggots is hard. He needed a species of fly that could be reared in lab colonies over many generations and that wouldn't be harmful to humans or animals. He settled on Baer's favorite, the greenbottle blowfly Lucilia sericata. Sherman baited small traps with rotting beef liver and placed them at various locations around his hometown of Long Beach. Eventually, in the spring of 1990, he managed to capture a female fly that had yet to lay her eggs -- she was exactly what he needed to start a lab colony. At first, he raised his flies in his apartment, constructing cages out of window screens, duct tape and cardboard. As the numbers grew, he transferred the boxes to a spare closet near his lab at the University of California, Irvine.