Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Return of the Leech

Back in the day--the 18th and early 19th century, and perhaps as far back as 1000BC--leeches were the cure all, from headaches to hemorrhoids, fever to flatulence and the common cold. Dr. Johann Friedrich Dieffenback (1792-1847), an early practitioner of plastic surgery, even successfully utilized leeches to aid in the reconstruction of the nose of Caroline Rohl, who had suffered from "degenerative scrofula". Dr. R.T Sawyer, founder of what is considered the world's first leech farm, quotes the good doctor in an article that appeared in the British Journal of Plastic Surgery:

Immediately after the transplant the tip of the nose
appeared chalk-white and started to change colour after a
few hours. Therefore, cold compressions were made and 20
leeches were applied to the surrounding area to soften the
developing inflammation, especially around the bridge of
the nose.

Today, leeches ("Hirudo medicinalis") are again being used in medicine, and are especially helpful when reattaching small multi-blood-vessel parts, like ears. In 2004, in fact, the FDA classified leeches as a medical device, the first of its kind: alive.

Live Science reports:

Leech saliva is made up of a potent cocktail of more than 30 different proteins that, among other things, helps to numb pain, reduce swelling and keep blood flowing.

In a recent paper published in the journal Pain, Dr. Andreas Michalsen and his colleagues demonstrate that a treatment of 2-3 locally applied leeches lessened pain in the knees of women suffering from osteoarthritis more effectively than a 30-day course of topical diclofenac, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug.

Let's hear it for the leech!


Maryanne Stahl said...

er...but they're so gross! lol

kma said...

hm. you have a point there!