Bandages containing fluids secreted by maggots could help accelerate the body's healing process, research suggests. Live maggots are sometimes applied to chronic wounds because they eat dead tissue, but leave healthy tissue alone, boosting healing. But now it has been demonstrated that the fluids produced by maggots also contain enzymes that actually accelerate tissue repair. Armed with the new findings, researchers in the UK hope to produce wound-dressings impregnated with the active maggot components. The idea is that, as well as protecting the wound, the dressings will speed up healing without the "yuk factor" involved with using live maggots. "If you can take the active components out, the approach would be much more versatile," say Stephen Britland, who is developing the dressing at the University of Bradford in the UK. Repair cells Britland and colleagues established the wound-healing capacity of "maggot juice" by applying extracts of the secretion to layers of cells that mimic skin. When they created artificial, circular "wounds" in the layers, the wounds healed fastest when exposed to the extracts. They suggest that protease enzymes in the juice enable repair cells to move more swiftly and freely within the wound site. "They all march in unison and fill the hole significantly quicker," says co-team leader, David Pritchard at the University of Nottingham in the UK. The researchers showed that the holes healed just as quickly whether the juice was applied directly or in a prototype gel which could be developed into a wound dressing. Britland says delivering precisely the right dose of maggot enzymes is crucial. "Too little and the clinical objectives will not be met, too much could disrupt tissue regeneration," he says. But he adds that suspending the enzymes in the gel allows quantities to be carefully controlled. Britland adds that it would take at least another three years to develop tissue-regenerating dressings incorporating the enzymes. The researcher's next step, beginning in November 2006, is to scrutinise in unprecedented detail how maggots heal wounds in real patients.