Diabetic patients need a better–and quicker–way to treat common foot ulcers. Diabetes makes people more susceptible to these foot sores, and in some cases, they can lead to amputation. One somewhat unconventional treatment method that’s been used for decades is known as maggot debridement therapy. The treatment involves introducing sterile maggots from the green bottle fly into wounds. The maggots eat the dead tissue, while depositing antimicrobial secretions, which keeps the wound from getting further infected.

Maggots are quick and easy to rear, making the process cheap, but the treatment hasn’t been shown to speed up healing. To do that, scientists are experimenting with genetically modified maggots. In a study published in the journal BMC Biotechnology, researchers describe two methods for modifying maggots to have faster healing powers.

The maggots were modified to secrete something called human platelet derived growth factor-BB (or PDGF-BB). The substance has been used as a topical treatment but gels can get expensive.

The researchers created two different groups of maggots, one that would produce PDGF-BB when exposed to “heat shock” of 37 degrees Celsius (about 99 degrees Fahrenheit). The other group would produce the growth factor when fed a diet that lacked an antibiotic called tetracycline. While both groups successfully produced the protein, the heat-activated maggots the PDGF-BB didn’t leave the maggots’ bodies, and the tetracycline-less maggots did appear to successfully excrete and secrete the protein.

The researchers note that a “rat wound healing model” is a next step before bringing this to clinical trials with human test subjects. But, if successful, it could help treat more than 20 different conditions, such as bedsores and burns, that are currently treated with maggots.

[Via Gizmodo]