Life’s a Leech!

6a01156fa075f4970c013486693511970cMarian Gower is the Manageress of one of the more unusual businesses based in Wales. Biopharm Leeches is one of the largest commercial leech farms in the World and was set up in Swansea in 1983 by American ‘leechologist’ Dr Roy Sawyer. Marian’s captivating knowledge stems from spending 24 years working with Hirudo medicinalis, or medicinal leeches to you and I. Marian explains, “There are over 650 types of leeches Worldwide, with 15 different varieties found in the UK. The leeches we breed and sell are the European Medicinal leeches, they are not leeches you will find in the garden. The ones common in garden ponds won’t feed on humans. They have large, toothless mouths to feed on earthworms and insect larvae which they eat whole.”

“Medicinal leeches feed on blood and are still used following certain types of surgery, if the flow of blood through the veins is restricted. People think leeches just extract bad blood but they also pump in various healing compounds through their saliva including a powerful anticoagulant, hirudin which prevents the clotting and congestion of blood.”

“Our leeches go to hospitals where surgeons have performed re-attachments, like fingers or a hand and if the veins have been too badly crushed to reconstruct through surgery, then leeches will be applied to the reattachment site. They will draw the blood through and provide an artificial form of circulation during which time the veins will reconstruct themselves. The body has incredible powers of self-healing. After about 20 minutes the leech will have satisfied its hunger and drop off but the wound will continue to bleed for around ten hours which allows the blood flow necessary for vein reconstruction. The success rates are tremendous,” she adds proudly. “We also treat rugby players with cauliflowers ears, although they really need to be ‘leeched’ within 3 or 4 hrs for the best results. I’ve watched the colour drain from one or two of them with fear before they’re leeched,” she confides.

6a01156fa075f4970c0133f344f70f970b“A leech has three jaws arranged in a Y- shape each with 100 teeth; despite 300 teeth being used to attach the leech the patient only feels a slight pin-prick sensation,” confirms Marian who had a leech attached to a ‘tennis elbow’ injury and has been pain-free since. “Research is still being done into other possible benefits of leeching, osteoarthritis for example and leeches are also used by Vets for hematomas following limb removal or road accidents.” “We go through various cycles of media interest too,” admits Marian. “My colleague Carl Peters recently appeared on BBC’s ‘The Victorian Pharmacy’ and Blue Peter with our leeches; some weeks we may sell 1,000 other weeks it may only be 10 or 20.”

“Regardless of status and/or demand, leeches are still undoubtedly saving lives and we are on call and able to despatch leeches 365 days of the year. Nature figured everything out a long time ago,” says Marian, “Personally I’d like to see leeches accepted and used a bit more as they are just so effective.”

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