I’m not talking about the horror movie, human-terrorizing type of leech, or the 19th century humour-balancing kind either. The modern role of the little blood suckers as surgical instruments is actually really cool.
For proof that leeches aren’t just ravenous blood-feasting sanguisuges, just watch this video from the PBS show Nova Science Now (one of the most awesome shows on television with one of the most awesome hosts).
Here’s what leech expert Mark Siddall has to say about the way leeches are being used today to help hospital patients:
In terms of modern uses, the problem of flap or replantation surgery concerns the fact that we can reattach arteries easier than we can reattach thin-walled veins. So blood gets into reattached tissue well, but it doesn’t get out. The result is swelling. Often so much swelling and clotting that the pressure can cause the (very expensively) reattached tissue to die. The problem then is how to reduce the pressure long enough for the veins to grow back. A leech… actively applies its own pressure to suck the excess blood out from a relatively shallow wound, and it puts in compounds that prevent clotting. The reduced swelling allows the veins to grow back. It’s about giving the tissue time, really. And it works!
Crazy, eh? So leeches aren’t as gross and diabolical as you thought. But remember that, although leeches can help hospital patients in certain cases, it’s more likely that a patient would need to receive donated blood (and not get it sucked out). Call 1-800-GIVE-LIFE or visit http://www.givelife.org/ to make a life-saving blood donation appointment today.