Thursday, April 16, 2009're sure about this, right doc?

I recently heard about a rather...unexpected medical therapy being used: using organisms that are commonly considered parasites to help treat certain conditions.

I'd like to ask those of you who are easily grossed out to stop reading now.

OK, I expect that most people, easily upset or not, are still reading, but just remember that I warned you!

I am talking about the medicinal use of maggots and leeches. Now aren't you glad that I didn't put up a picture at the start of this article!

Much to my surprise these approaches are actually being used today, and for very good reasons. In the case of leeches, the critter is very good at getting rid of blood that can accumulate in a reattached limb, such as a finger.

When something like a thumb is reattached, the artery (a very small one I guess) that carries blood to the digit is reattached, but the veins that carry blood away from the finger take a bit of time to reattach on their own.

Enter the leech! Rather than draining the reattached thumb of excess blood several times a day using a syringe, one can use a leech instead. The advantage here is that you don't end up with multiple syringe wounds, that are more likely to become infected.

The leech is very good at keeping blood from coagulating, which is the reason why you would have to create multiple syringe wounds to accomplish the same thing.

The maggots (yes, fly larvae) are used in some conditions where you have dead tissue that needs to be removed from a patient. One problem with such tissue is that it can be infected by bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics.

Such situations are becoming more common because more people are finding themselves with diabetes. Apparently, people with that disease can end up with limbs that have dead tissue, hence the problem with infections.

Maggots were used more commonly in the past, but were abandoned in favor of antibiotics when such chemicals became available. Because strains of resistant bacteria are becoming more common, doctors are turning to novel therapies that do not rely on anti-bios.

Regardless of the benefits of such approaches, I find the idea of partnerships between species --- symbiosis --- to be an interesting one. Furthermore, it's something that seems to pop up again and again in biology. Finally, I'm a lazy person and I realized that my topic for the coming BYBS might need some more lead-in; hence the value of this posting :-)

P.S. Since we're at the end of the article, I can now show pictures. Actually, I don't think this one has a lot of "gross me out" value, but your mileage may vary.

P.P.S. This was taken from a very interesting article from Wikipedia.

A wound cleaned by maggots

1 comment:

Tanis said...

I think, my dear, that next time you say "stop reading now" - OK, well, maybe I won't listen to you. But I will leave it until I've gone home :)
Seriously, though, this is interesting - considering that leeches were used way back when in archaic medicine and had been scoffed at as much as "bleeding" people (You have demons in the blood making you sick!! We must get rid of the blood!) and now it's making a reoccurance. Kinda cool :)
Thank you...