Leeches Cleared for Medical Use by the FDA

After Thousands of Years of Use, FDA Approves Leeches as Medical Devices

June 28, 2004 -- Coming to a pharmacy near you, hordes of blood-sucking leeches!

It may sound like a horror movie, but the FDA says it's good medicine.

After thousands of years of use as an alternative treatment to blood-letting (an antiquated and abandoned practice of draining blood to cure diseases) and amputation, the FDA today approved the commercial marketing of leeches for medical purposes.

Medicinal leeches (Hirudo medicinalis) are blood-sucking aquatic animals that live in fresh water.

The small, slimy creatures were widely used in the 19th century to cure a variety of ailments. Currently, they are used in many parts of the world to help heal wounds and restore circulation in blocked blood veins.

Medicinal Leeches Finally Earn FDA Approval

Ricarimpex SAS, a French company, is the first to request and receive FDA clearance to market leeches in the U.S. as medical devices. The firm has been breeding leeches for 150 years in a certified facility and tracks each lot of leeches it produces.

In approving leeches as a medical device, the FDA says it reviewed the literature on leeches use in medicine and evaluated the safety information provided by Ricarimpex.

Under the law, a medical device is any article designed to diagnose, cure, treat, prevent, or mitigate a disease or condition; or to affect the function or structure of the body that does not achieve its effect primarily through a chemical action and is not metabolized.

SOURCE: News release, FDA.