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Humans are not alone in shaping the future of healthcare: Animal-assisted therapy, or “biotherapy,” is playing an increasing role in healing.

Biotherapy practices include support animals, such as therapy dogs, which can assist with a range of challenges. A 2015 study at Chicago’s Loyola University found that people recovering from joint replacement needed significantly less pain medication than the control group when they used canine-assisted therapy.

There are now diabetic-alert dogs that can detect signs of dangerously low blood sugar in people with diabetes. Studies have been conducted to see if dogs’ ability to sniff out cancer can be trained in a systematic-enough way to use their diagnostic help in clinics. In February 2021, there were four dogs working at Miami’s American Airlines Arena that were trained to sniff out COVID-19 in ticketholders waiting to enter.

Horses are especially good at helping humans heal. Equine therapy can support children who have cerebral palsy develop greater strength, sensory integration, and coordination, as well as help military veterans in PTSD recovery.

Finally, some old biotherapy treatments are becoming new again, such as maggot debridement therapy (MDT), in which the larvae are used to clean wounds. While the notion may challenge the faint of heart, the reintroduction of this practice (common before the development of antibiotics) is good news, especially as rates of type 2 diabetes increase, and along with them, the numbers of nonhealing diabetic foot ulcers.

Research has shown MDT to be substantially more effective and efficient than conventional methods in cleaning and healing these wounds, and it may be especially useful for wound care in light of the rise in antibiotic resistance.

Worms can assist human health internally as well. Helminth therapy is an experimental treatment using controlled doses of intestinal parasites to help people manage and recover from inflammatory and autoimmune conditions; they appear to give an overactive immune response a more reasonable target than the body’s own tissues.

This was excerpted from “The Future of Health” which was published in the July/August 2021 issue of Experience Life magazine.

Courtney Helgoe

Courtney Helgoe is the Experience Life features editor.

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