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Kashmir Hospitals Using Leeches

Hospitals in Indian-administered Kashmir have started using leeches to suck blood out of patients as part of their treatment.

Doctors in three hospitals are using leeches to treat heart problems and conditions such as arthritis, gout, chronic headaches and sinusitis.

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The leeches are described as ‘wonder doctors’

Patients who have not been cured using conventional medicine are the most likely to want to try using leeches.

The doctor heading the programme says there have been some “amazing results”.

Leeches were widely used in medicine until the end of the 19th century.

Cautiously optimistic

The Kashmir hospitals using leeches follow the traditional unani system of medicine that originated in ancient Greece and is recognised by the Indian health authorities.

A patient at the unani hospital in Sopore town, Abdul Razak Mir, says he has suffered from a chronic headache and bad cold for two decades, which has recently affected his eyes.

Allopathic (conventional) medicines have failed to cure me,” he says. “I am hopeful that the leech therapy will help me.”

Abdul Rashid Bhat has had a skin disease for three years. “I have been to many doctors but have had no relief. Now I have come for leech therapy. I hope I will be cured. People have told me it helps.”

An orthopaedic patient, Ghulam Hassan, is also cautiously optimistic:

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Traditional workers are being used to apply the leeches

“I have been on medicine and have also had physiotherapy but to no avail. Now I am trying the leech therapy. Maybe my pain goes. I cannot say anything yet.”

Dr Nasir Ahmed Hakeem heads the three hospitals. He says he has used leeches on at least 200 patients in the past year.

He describes the leech as a “wonder doctor” and a “medicine factory which makes numerous enzymes”.

According to Dr Hakeem, there are more than 100 bio-active substances in the saliva of a leech which go into the body of a patient while it sucks the patient’s blood.

Unani colleges do not train people in leech treatment, so Dr Hakeem has taken on traditional workers to apply the leeches to his patients.

Once a leech is used on a human it is then killed as part of the measures to prevent it passing on an infection from one patient to another.

Dr Hakeem has drawn a lot of criticism from the allopathic, or medical mainstream, community.

But he claims now that “some allopathic doctors are among my patients” after being convinced of research showing the effectiveness of using leeches.

‘Not a strong case’

He cites the example of allopathic doctors using maggots to treat ‘diabetic foot’ (feet problems that develop in diabetic patients).

The maggot, he says, eats the rotten tissue in the foot but not the healthy tissue.

Dr Abdul Waheed Banday, former head of the department of medicine in Srinagar‘s Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences, says that there is renewed interest in leech therapy in the West.

He says that although leech treatment is affordable for the poor, he does not expect its use in allopathic hospitals in the near future: “Fresh research on leech therapy is going on, but as of yet, there is not a strong case for its use.”

But Dr Nasir Hakeem remains hopeful.

Sources:BBC NEWS:April 4,’08

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Itch Gene Discovered

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Relief may soon be at hand for chronic scratchers:-
Scratch no more. A remedy for that unpleasant itching sensation could be in the offing with researchers spotting the first ever gene responsible for itchiness in the central nervous system.

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Itching is a widespread problem often associated with skin diseases.

The discovery of the itch gene  GRPR (gastrin-releasing peptide receptor) — by two Washington University School of Medicine researchers could lead to treatments that provide relief from chronic and severe scratchiness.

Zhou-Feng Chen and his post-doctoral fellow Yan-Gang Sun reported in Nature last week the GRPR gene codes for a receptor that resides in a very small population of spinal cord nerve cells that relay pain and itch signals. Their tests on mice showed that the animals that lacked this gene scratched much less than those having it when given itchy stimuli.

Chronic itching is a widespread problem and is often associated with skin disorders such as eczema. But sometimes kidney failures or liver disorders too trigger an itching sensation. It can also be a serious side effect of certain cancer therapies or powerful painkillers like morphine. For some, chronic itching can be very disruptive, interfering with sleep or resulting in scarring. Whatever the cause, effective treatment options are limited for itchiness.

Traditionally, scientists regarded itchiness as just a less intense version of the pain sensation. As a result, research on itching has been patchy. Itch research has always lived in the shadow of pain research,….says Chen.

In the beginning, Chen’s team, too, wasn’t actually looking for the itch gene. The scientists stumbled upon it accidentally while trying to figure out the genes associated with the pain stimuli. Among the pain-sensing genes they identified, GRPR stood out because it was present in only a few nerve cells in the spinal cord known to relay pain and/or itch signals to the brain. This prompted them to study some mice that were missing the GRPR gene to find out how they were different from normal mice.

The research was a little disappointing at first,  says Chen.  The knockout mice seemed to have the same reactions to painful stimuli as normal mice.

But the puzzle was resolved when his co-worker, Sun, injected a substance that stimulated GRPR to the spinal cords of normal mice — the rodents started scratching themselves as if they had a severe itch. This tip off led to detailed investigation that resulted in the discovery of the first gene implicated in the urge to itch.

Source:The Telegraph (Kolkata, India)