U.S. approves leeches for therapy

ARKive species - Medicinal leech (Hirudo medicinalis)

Blood-sucking leeches – used for thousands of years in medicine – now have the
U.S. government’s approval as a tool for healing skin grafts or restoring
circulation, regulators said on Monday.

The Food and Drug Administration approved an application from French firm
Ricarimpex SAS to market leeches for medicinal purposes. The company has been
breeding leeches for 150 years, the FDA said.

Doctors have used the small aquatic worms for several thousand years in the
belief that bloodletting helps to cure a wide range of complaints from headaches
to gout. They reached their height of medicinal use in the mid-1800s.

Today, doctors around the world use leeches to remove blood pooled under skin
grafts for burn patients, or to restore circulation in blocked veins by removing
pooled blood, the FDA said in a statement.

Leeches are particularly useful in surgeries to reattach body parts such as
fingers or ears, Ricarimpex said on its Web site. The leeches can help restore
blood flow to reconnected veins.

The FDA said it considered the leeches a medical device. The agency approved
their sale after reviewing medical literature and safety data provided by
Ricarimpex.

The FDA also examined information about how the leeches are fed, their
environment, and the employees who handle them.

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