Zootherapy Essay

1028 words - 4 pages

The medicinal use of animals for the benefit of humans, zootherapy, dates all the way back to the medieval period. Many indigenous peoples around the world rely solely on the use of plants and animals for the healing and treatment of their people. These ancient uses of animals have often led to scientific research of the specific uses of animals and compounds developed from animals in modern medicine. The use of leeches is a well-know type of zootherapy that has recently been approved by the FDA. The venom of cone snails is also being studied and used in pain relief for people who suffer from cancer and other painful diseases. Also, there are studies being done on the ability of arctic mammals, such as the arctic ground squirrel, to survive in subzero temperatures during hibernation. Scientists are looking to incorporate this in organ transplants to prolong the life of organs outside the body, and in protecting the brain from ischaemia.

The carnivorous worm Hirudo medicinalis, commonly known as a leech, has recently been approved by the FDA as a medicinal device. In June, 2004 the FDA gave the French company Ricarimpex SAS a license to market leeches for medical use in the United States. Leeches are commonly used post-operatively in reconstructive surgery. It is difficult for ruptured veins to rejoin after surgery without any vessels to drain blood away. This can cause cells to die from oxygen deprivation. Leeches can eliminate this by sucking the pooled blood, which allows the body to re-establish the network of blood vessels (Pilcher 2004). There are also recent studies being done on the use of leeches in the treatment of osteoarthritis. This condition occurs when cartilage in the knee joint breaks down. This causes a great deal of pain and inflammation. There are a variety of complex proteins in the saliva of these leeches, which are injected into the host when the leech bites. One of these is an anti-inflammatory called leech-derived tryptase inhibitor and another is a type of analgesic, which can numb the brain¡¦s response to pain. A single treatment with these leeches can have a lasting effect for over six months. With companies now importing these medicinal leeches into the United States, they may become more and more common in hospitals across the county.

Conus geographus, a species of carnivorous cone snail may contain compounds that can treat severe pain. These snails fire chemical neurotoxins at their prey to paralyze it before digestion. Scientist Baldomero Olivera has discovered that the toxic protein fragments, known as conotoxins, contained in the snail¡¦s venom are extremely small and are shaped perfectly to block critical openings in nerve cells (Gibbs 1996). One class of these conotoxins, Omega-conotoxins, has been isolated to relieve pain in humans by interrupting pain signals as they travel up the spinal cord to the brain. These signals are dependent on calcium ions moving within cells. The...

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