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Biotherapy can be defined as the use of living animals or microorganisms to diagnose or treat diseases.
Some of these modalities are widely practiced and well-respected (i.e., guide dogs, commonly referred to as "seeing eye dogs"). Others are accepted as medically effective and relatively safe, but not widely used (for example, maggot therapy, leech therapy). Still others are not well-known and not yet proven or accepted by Western medicine.
Examples of biotherapeutic modalities are listed below, and linked to more detailed discussions of each.
Other resources you may find useful will open in another tab or window if you select them:
Some microorganisms, such as phage, are parasites of bacteria and other microbes. Administering these parasitic microorganisms to people with infections has been associated with eradication of the underlying infections. Treating infectious diseases with parasitic microorganisms has many advantages over treatment with antibiotics. More about phage and microbial therapy >>
Honey bee venom contains anti-inflammatory substances that are believed to be responsible for the beneficial effects seen when they are allowed to sting patients with severe pain syndromes (for example, rheumatoid arthritis), and some neurological syndromes (for example, multiple sclerosis). Many other illness are being treated with honey bee stings, and active research is defining the optimal clinical indications and mechanisms underlying the benefits of honey bee sting therapy. Other bee products are also used in medicine. More about bee venom therapy >>
Dogs have been shown to be able to detect cancers in humans, on the basis of odors given off by the malignancy or the host. Although not yet clinically practiced, the potential diagnostic and therapeutic benefits of sniffer dogs is sparking new research into this area of biotherapy. More about canine olfactory detection >>
Guide dogs ("seeing eye dogs") that aid the visually-impaired navigate their world is another example of living animals helping in the diagnosis and treatment of illness. This is one of the most well-accepted forms of biotherapy, and as a result it may be less well recognized as "biotherapy." Many other animals are trained to provide important medical services, including hearing, assistance before a seizure or episode of hypoglycemia, or during many other medical emergencies. More about service animals >>
Animal pets provide companionship and unconditional love. Pets improve general mood, decrease depression and loneliness, and distract our minds from stress-inducing concerns. The quality of life is improved for countless individuals --- not just the elderly, lonely, and infirmed --- through the company, the pleasures, and the challenges of animal pets. But animals can provide even more physical and emotional therapy than that. Good examples are hippotherapy & equine facilitated learning (EFL) More about pet therapy, horse riding & hippotherapy >>.
Helminthic Therapy is sometimes referred to as worm therapy or Trichuris suis Ova (TSO) Therapy. Many people are aware of the infectious diseases commonly seen in the tropics, such as intestinal parasites. Some people are aware of the many diseases seen mostly in developed countries, such as inflammatory bowel disease and some allergic or hypersensitivity disorders. Recently, a connection has been made, based on the assumption that these tropical infections may, in fact, protect against immune-mediated illnesses, such as Crohn's disease, allergic rhinitis, and others. Beginning in 2004, Trichuris suis (an swine intestinal roundworm that is not a human parasite) became available to treat disabling illnesses such as Crohn's colitis. Since then, more clinical trials have examined the benefits of controlled therapeutic infections with helminths on immunologically mediated diseases. More about helminthic therapy >>
Leeches have been used in medicine for thousands of years. Leeches remove blood ("phlebotomize") from their host, and they release pain-killing (anesthetic) and blood-thining (anticoaggulant) substances with their saliva. Live leeches are currently used to treat blood-congested limbs, which otherwise might die or require amputation, if the pooling blood cannot be removed any other way. They are also sometimes used to provide pain relief, and for many other therapeutic effects. More about leech therapy >>
Ichthyotherapy is the use of certain species of fish to treat wounds and skin conditions. There are only a few centers in the world currently doing Ichthyotherapy. There clinical outcomes look very good; but objective, scientific studies are almost non-existent. Over the coming months, we will add more information and links to this topic. More about Ichthyotherapy >>
Maggot therapy is the controlled therapeutic use of live, disinfected fly larvae ("maggots") to treat problematic wounds in humans and other animals. Maggot therapy is also known as maggot debridement therapy (MDT), larva therapy, larval therapy, biodebridement, or biosurgery. The larvae have four primary actions: they clean the wounds by removing dead and disinfected tissue ("debridement"), the disinfect the wound (kill bacteria), they hasten the rate of wound healing, and they dissolve biofilm (the sticky slime that bacteria make). More about maggot therapy >>
Medicinal maggots, leeches and microbes save lives and limbs every day! Bee venom therapy and helminthic therapy are helping patients and therapists manage previously "unmanageable" immune systems. Service animals and hippotherapy help the disabled adapt and thrive, despite life's challenges. The list of medicinal animals continues to expand, as we learn more about the world around us.
Through it all, the BTER Foundation is making biotherapy more available to those who could benefit from it, by subsidizing the costs of treatment for patients who can not afford it, by developing educational programs to train therapists in the use of biotherapeutic methods, by developing treatment standards that optimize the effectiveness and safety of each method, and by helping to advance our understanding of biotherapeutic medicine through policy development and scientific research.