It's a leech, but not as we know it, Jim
g.read at niwa.cri.nz
Thu Dec 13 20:02:41 EST 2001
Press report: Mechanical leech does icky job better - researchers
Washington, Dec 12 Reuters
Animal tests show glass device can work to keep fresh blood flowing to
A mechanical leech that does the work of the real thing, without the mess
and the "ick" factor, might work to help patients heal better after tricky
surgery, researchers said on Wednesday.
A team at the University of Wisconsin has developed its own sterile and
efficient version of the ancient physicians' tool.
They say animal tests show their glass device can work to keep fresh blood
flowing to surgical wounds, helping them heal more cleanly.
Leeches may be creepy but they do have legitimate medical uses, said
physiologist Nadine Connor of the University of Wisconsin, who is helping
develop and test the device.
One of them is in treating a condition called venous congestion, which can
be a complication of reconstructive surgery - such as that done if a person
loses a limb or finger or after cancer operations.
"What happens is the arteries pump blood into the reconstructed tissue, but
the associated veins do not let the blood flow out, usually because the veins
have become clotted," Connor said.
"The excess blood in the tissue, if severe enough, can deprive the tissue of
oxygen and other nutrients and can cause it to die."
A leech has natural anticoagulants in its saliva, and through its constant
sucking keeps blood flowing. Leeches have been used, for instance, after
the surgery done to reconstruct a breast when a tumor is removed.
But it has some real drawbacks, not the least of which is a person's natural
abhorrence of the slimy bloodsuckers.
"Some women have said having this leech on their breast is the worst part
of their breast cancer," Connor said.
Surgeon Gregory Hartig thought there must be a better way.
"Greg noticed, as a head and neck surgeon, that leeches don't really work
very well," Connor said.
"Besides all their other detracting factors, leeches are trying to do their
own thing - they are trying to fill their gut with blood. They aren't trying to
help the patient."
Hartig, Connor and colleagues designed a bell-shaped glass device, about
1.3cm long, that pulls blood through the wound to keep tissue healthy.
"Actually, we are trying not to make it look like a real leech, not that leeches
aren't beautiful, because of the psychological impact that leech use has on
patients," Connor said.
"It is made out of glass and metal and has fluids that run through it to
irrigate the wound."
The device, patented by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Fund, is being
tested on animals and should be ready for human tests soon, Connor said.
Reuters cw©13/12/01 07-12NZ
Geoff Read <g.read at niwa.cri.nz>
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