A parasite from Southeast Asia could have huge ramifications to improve wound healing in humans.

Dating back as far as the Middle Ages, physicians and other healers have relied on certain living creatures to aid in the wound care process. Maggots have been used for centuries to help clean out dead tissue from wounds, while leeches have been used for a number of purposes, including helping reestablish blood flow to reattached limbs. Even to this day, medical professionals are finding new uses for a plethora of similar, small animals. As part of a recent study published in the journal PLoS ONE, researchers have identified a specific fluke worm that could help improve the wound healing process.

A strange history

This study is the result of work from a group of scientists from James Cook University and the Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine. The worm in question is called the Opisthorchis viverrini, or Southeast Asian liver fluke. Up until now, though, this parasitic fluke worm was known less for its potential to heal and more for its destructive capabilities. Across Southeast Asia, millions of people each year become infected by the worm after eating raw fish. Of that larger population, noted an accompanying press release, approximately 26,000 people annually will die from contracting cholangiocarcinoma, a parasite-induced form of bile duct cancer. According to Smithsonian magazine, the fluke worm creates a special kind of protein called granulin. Exposure to this protein in humans can cause a mass division of cells, leading to the onset of cancer.

Accelerated wound healing

However, JCU and AITHM have discovered another chemical component within the worm that could prove to be utterly revolutionary to the wound care industry. Two lead scientists, Dr. Michael Smout and Professor Alex Loukas, have isolated a specialized growth factor from the worm that facilitates expanded blood vessel growth and overall healing. Researchers explained that the worms use the growth factor to promote healing within their hosts as they eat away at vital blood cells.

Of course, the more the more effectively the growth factor works, the greater the risk of bile duct cancer. However, Smout and Loukas are working to isolate this wonder drug from the carcinogenic compounds, and they hope to one day create a vaccine that can help treat chronic wounds like diabetic ulcers.

Diabetes is a big problem as we live longer and get heavier,” Smout said. “There are increasing numbers of inflammatory diseases such as diabetes and associated non-healing wounds. A powerful wound healing agent designed by millennia of host-parasite co-evolution may accelerate the impaired healing processes that plague diabetic and elderly patients.”

In 2009, a group of Asian researchers also examined the Southeast Asian liver fluke. The team eventually published their findings in the journal PLoS Pathogen. They found that the worm contained a protein similar to human growth hormone. This substance can also stimulate cell growth, which can also improve overall healing time. No word if the growth factor discovered by the Australian team is the same as HGH.

In addition, the same vaccine might be also help safeguard people from this specific bile duct cancer. However, any possible cures or stop-gaps could still be several years away.

Advanced Tissue is the nation’s leader in delivering specialized wound care supplies to patients.