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Medical Uses for Insects

For years, doctors and researchers have turned to the world around them to try and find cures for diseases, to alleviate pain and provide all kinds of services to patients. In fact, there is a branch of the scientific world known as ethnoentomology that studies the relationship between insects and humans.

That means that scientists in this area study the ways insects can be used as food and in religious rituals, as well. However, one particularly fascinating area of et no entomology is the study of medical uses for insects.

Medicinal bugs collage

Cancer Research

Wasps – the Brazilian social wasp which is known by its scientific name as Polybia paulista is a fierce predator and protector of its nest. The wasps are powerful and very effective against predators.

The venom that they inject is known as MP1 and scientists have discovered that it has some rather amazing properties. The most important being: it kills cancer cells.

More importantly, when the venom was tested it killed ONLY cancer cells, leaving the healthy cells around it – healthy.

The venom appears to attack parts of the membrane that comprises the cancer cell, known as lipids. This leaves holes in the cancer cells, causing vital fluid those cells need to survive to leak out and the cancer cell dies.

Although much of this is in the early testing phases, it also seems that the venom contains substances that have so far shown to greatly inhibit the growth of cancer such as prostate and bladder cancer.

Exactly why the venom attacks only cancer cells and not the healthy ones is not really understood at this point, but further studies are already happening and scientists are looking for a way to manufacture the peptide in the venom that appears to be doing all of the work.

Blister Beetles – Blister Beetles have been used medicinally for centuries. It was the blister beetle that was part of the original recipe for “Spanish Fly” which was legendary for being an aphrodisiac. However, in later years, it was discovered that the beetles secreted a substance known as cantharidin which helped alleviate pain for people experience kidney stones, urinary tract infections and burns.

Then things got really interesting.

Further studies showed that cantharidin contains something known as a protein blocker. Protein blockers are used to fight infections, and appeared to attack only the infected cells. Then scientists discovered it also attacked viral cells.

Now studies show that the blister beetle secretions attack hostile cells – including cancer. There are studies that indicate blister beetles might be used to battle tumors and in chemotherapy treatments.

Pain Management

There are a number of insects that have been used for pain management, although the actual effectiveness still remains in dispute. Some of the insects that seem to help include:

Bees – you might have seen holistic and natural remedies that use bees and substances produced by bees as treatment for a number of things. Some studies done have claimed to show that processed bee venom used in the style of acupuncture can reduce swelling and alleviate the pain of people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. Many of the studies used standard pain medication with the bee venom for faster results. Most of the studies are controversial and this is still not a wholly accepted treatment, but signs have been encouraging.

Silkworms – a bacteria that lives in the digestive system of silkworms contains a substance known as serrapeptase. This substance appears to offer tremendous pain relief for people with things like back injuries and back pain. There are studies underway to see if they can also help with arthritis and with sports injuries.

Grasshoppers – it turns out that their nervous systems are remarkably similar to humans. This has been known for a long time by scientists and grasshoppers have been used for study purposes in labs for years. These days, scientists are studying toxins produced by grasshoppers that may offer pain relief. In some cultures, poultices made of ground grasshoppers have been placed on the heads of those suffering from migraines for years and offer relief.

Ants – one species of ant that has been given the name “devil’s ant” appears to produce chemicals that can help with arthritis sufferers. The ants are very ancient, so much so that they don’t have a name yet and the exact nature of the toxic compound they produce is not entirely understood. The toxin has to be very diluted and injected into the patients, but so far studies are encouraging according to those who have experienced the treatment.

Skin-healers and Crime Fighters

Throughout much of history if you suffered an infection or injury to your skin, the doctor would not prescribe an antibiotic. Instead, your doctor was likely to pour maggots on you.

It’s true. Maggots eat necrotic (dead) flesh and leave the healthy flesh alone. The effects of how this can help people with serious injuries were first studied in the battlefields of World War I, but the treatments fell out of fashion when penicillin and other antibiotics were developed.

These days maggots are being used again to help people who suffer from flesh-eating bacteria or who are not responding to standard antibiotic treatment. Staph infections and burn treatments are also helped by maggots that will eat away dead and dying tissue and allow new and healthy tissue to grow.

In the world of crime, every bit of evidence helps. When a dead body is found, it’s important to know how long that body has been there. That’s why scientists often study blow flies to determine a time of death.

Blow flies are often one of the first creatures to set up their homes in dead bodies. They often lay their eggs within just a few hours after they die. The life cycle of the average blow fly is so predictable and easy to follow that crime scene investigators can use them and their colonies to help determine a time of death.

Of course, for many in the medical world using insects in any capacity is still considered “alternative” medicine and most of the information above is still in a study phase. No one is suggesting that if you have some arthritis pain that you should run out and get stung by bees.

At the same time, many of these insects, when encountered in and around your home, can still be pests. So, if you have a pest issue, call in the pros at Ehrlich today.

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