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The SHIFT collaborators are leading research works in anthropology / archaeology, genetics (environmental, vegetal and animal) and entomology. However, they are also active in other domains such as toxicology, imaging, disaster victim identification, etc. with the support of granted partnerships.
Larval Approach for Research and Wound Ameliorations in clinical therapies
(BIOS Foundation for Research : 150 000 CHF, PI : Dr Vincent Varlet, Dr Jiri Hodecek)
Historically, maggots have been known for centuries to help heal wounds. Many military surgeons noted that soldiers whose wounds became infested with maggots had a much lower mortality rate than soldiers with similar wounds not infested.
Today, larva therapy refers to the medical use of live maggots (fly larvae) for cleaning non-healing wounds. In larva therapy, (also known as maggot debridement therapy, biodebridement or biosurgery), disinfected fly larvae are applied to the wound within special dressings. This medical care is routinely used in hospitals all over the world including Switzerland (CHUV of Lausanne, HUG Geneva, etc.). Medical grade larval material has three primary actions: they clean the wound by removing dead and infected tissue ("debridement"), they disinfect the wound (kill bacteria), and they speed the rate of healing. However, the efficiency of the treatment is dependant to the larval activity, directly impacted by the medical treatment of a patient (painkillers, etc.) and until now, the influence of xenobiotics on the larval metabolism is still nearly unknown.
Larval material bred at laboratory on controlled xenobiotically-fortified substrates and collected from patients under larvatherapy (CHUV and HUG) will be analysed at larval and adult stages. The influences of xenobiotics on larval development will be assessed morphologically by experienced entomologists and biochemically by the proteomic characterisations of anatomical parts of insects by matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization time of flight mass spectrometry (MALDI-TOF-MS) already used for identification of mosquitoes and other potential insect vectors for adults, larvae and eggs.
Among insects, except their ecological recycling role, necrophagous insects have not been very investigated in the last century. However, more recently, they received an increasing attention due to their usefulness in clinical / medical, forensic and environmental sciences. The major outcome of the current project concerns the improvement of the clinical procedures for larvatherapy. Knowing the effect of drugs on larval metabolism, it becomes possible to better adapt the medical treatment to the patient under larvatherapy in order to speed up the healing process while reducing the use of antibiotics. The study of the influence of xenobiotics is also important for environment sciences and public health (mosquitos / pesticides) and food sciences (contaminants, improvements of breeding protocols of edible insects) as well as in forensic sciences (entomotoxicology) in order to document the cause and circumstances of death and to estimate a minimal post-mortem interval (PMI, time between the death and the discovery of remains).
Establishment of temperature thresholds for the development of common necrophagous flies of Switzerland
In this research, we aim to create a list of developmental rates for each of the particular insect stage of the most common swiss necrophagous flies (Lucilia sericata, Calliphora vicina, Calliphora vomitoria, Chrysomya albiceps, etc.). The results will be compared with literature data from other areas of the chosen flies’ area of distribution and then used for postmortem interval estimations in real cases of Switzerland.
Effect of local adaptations on developmental rate of necrophagous insects
This is an international collaboration in between Switzerland, Czech Republic, Germany and Poland in order to study the geographical developmental variation hypothesis based on the comparison of the local populations of chosen necrophagous species. This project is under development.
Forensic Laboratories Intercooperation for Entomology Spreading
(Humanitarian Commission of Lausanne University Hospital : 40 000 CHF, PI : Dr Vincent Varlet, Dr Jiri Hodecek)
The African continent is known for some countries with very high murder rates. For example Nigeria, the most populated country of the continent, had the homicide rate of 34.5 cases per 100 000 population in 2016, which puts it amongst the top 10 countries in the world. Another 2 countries in the top 10 are Lesotho with the murder rate of 44 and South Africa with the rate of 36 (https://data.worldbank.org/). Indeed, local investigators are often overwhelmed with police work and recent and expensive forensic technologies are often not available to solve the cases. With such a high number of homicides (for comparison, the homicide rate in Switzerland was 0.54 in 2016), there is an increased and urgent need for revision of the investigation techniques on behalf of African countries to develop and implement easy and cheap forensic solutions to shed light on forensic works and homicides. Taking into account the warm climate of most parts of the African continent, human bodies are often found already colonized by necrophagous insects. The incorporation of forensic entomology in the investigation routine has thus become mandatory for the success of future investigations.
Since 2018, the Swiss Human Institute of Forensic Taphonomy (SHIFT) of the University Centre of Legal Medicine of Lausanne-Geneva (CURML) has developed the first forensic entomology laboratory in Switzerland and is listed as a national reference center by polices authorities. Based on a strong national (natural history museum of Geneva, zoology museum in Lausanne, Society of Natural Sciences, etc.) and international academic (Poland, Czech Republic, Germany, United Kingdom, South Africa, etc.) and operational networks (Swiss Polices, French Gendarmerie’s forensic science institute IRCGN, International Biotherapy Society, etc.), the forensic laboratory of SHIFT is completely operational. A fully established laboratory for forensic entomology can provide a possibility for calculating the minimal postmortem interval (PMImin) of the victims, the potential drug usage (entomotoxicology), death scene, and trauma documentation (movement or storage of the remains, submersion interval, time of decapitation and/or dismemberment, identification of specific sites of trauma or post-mortem artifacts on the body), demonstrating of the period of neglect of living humans and animals by examining the insects recovered from infested wounds.
The Swiss know-how can perfectly answer the needs of African countries to establish a forensic entomology laboratory to document the fatalities. Establishing such a laboratory would be a step forward for: 1) Support of police and law enforcement authorities, since the application of modern science in forensic investigations could significantly help with criminal investigations, 2) Promotion of forensic entomology in general and knowledge improvement concerning African necrophagous insects as well as 3) Swiss forensic entomology know-how valorization.