Leech farm

Leech farm

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This image is part of the feature Biotherapy

Credit: LOUISE MURRAY/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

Caption: Leech farm. Medicinal leeches (Hirudo medicinalis) in a tank of water. Leeches are parasites that feed on blood. They attach themselves to the skin using suckers and create a wound with three sharp jaw plates, which contain over 600 teeth. Their saliva contains hirudin, a chemical which prevents blood from clotting. A normal wound may bleed for up to 20 minutes before clotting, but a leech wound can bleed for up to 10 hours. Leeches are used in modern medicine to drain blood from haematomas (accumulations of blood) and to draw blood into transplanted tissues until circulation is established. They must be starved for up to 6 months before surgical use. Photographed at BioPharm Ltd, Wales, UK.

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