A molecule found in the saliva of a parasitic worm may be a key to accelerating wound healing.

It may seem like a strange pairing but a parasite could be the key to reducing the necessity for amputation, thousands of which occur each year.

In a report by ABC News Australia, researchers in Queensland say they have discovered a molecule in the saliva of the Thai liver parasitic worm that can accelerate the wound healing process.

Globally, every 30 seconds a person has a limb amputated because of a non-healing wound, according to a James Cook University press release. Non-healing wounds are particularly problematic for those with diabetes, people who smoke and the elderly, the researchers added.

Discovering the molecule

According to Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine parasitologist Michael Smout, researchers discovered the molecule while searching for a vaccine for the worm (Opisthorchis viverrini), which causes a version of liver cancer that kills more than 25,000 people in Thailand a year.

In the course of their research, they discovered a molecule in the saliva of the worm has the ability to heal the wound of its host, allowing it to feed the worm longer.

That molecule, known as granulin, is part of a collection of proteins that are part of the cell growth process.

“We realised the molecule, discovered in worm spit, could offer a solution for non-healing wounds, which are a problem for diabetics, smokers and the elderly,” Smout said.

Once scientists came up with a way to reproduce the molecule in a lab, they began testing the granulin peptides in the form of a cream on human cells in lab dishes and on mice. Both tests showed significant results, both in increasing cell proliferation in the human cells and effective wound healing in the mice.

More research needed

The research team told ABC they are looking for partners to help develop the treatment with further testing and clinical trials. While they anticipate a treatment won’t be available for at least 10 years, they envision it being applied by doctors initially, but later developed as a treatment the patient can take home with them for at-home wound dressing.

“We have plenty of work to do before clinical trials,” said Professor Alex Loukas, another member of the research team, “but we’re confident we have a very strong contender for what could one day be a cream that a diabetic could apply at home, avoiding a lengthy hospital stay and possible amputation.”

Loukas said the development of a take-home cream for accelerated wound healing could reduce the more than $3.7 billion Australia spends on treating chronic wound healing.

Advanced Tissue is the nation’s leader in delivering specialized wound care supplies to patients, delivering to both homes and long-term care facilities.