NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 30, 2004

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved a French company's proposal to market leeches as a medical device.

This isn't the first time that a living, multi-celled creature has been approved for medical use:

  • Earlier this year, the FDA gave a California man the right to market maggots to remove dead tissue from wounds.
  • Leeches and maggots meet the definition of a "medical device" because they are intended to "diagnose, cure, treat, prevent or alleviate a disease or condition," and, unlike drugs, they are not broken down by the body.

Leeches are about the size of a person's pinkie finger but swell up to the size of a thumb after soaking up blood. They have been used in medicine for thousands of years; even today, doctors at major medical centers use them.

Ricarimpex, a French company who has been breeding leeches for 150 years, now has permission to market leeches in the United States to remove blood that accumulates in tissue grafts.

Source: Rita Rubin, "Leech alert!" USA Today, June 29, 2004.

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