ECOSF team comprising Prof. Dr. Manzoor H. Soomro, President ECOSF and Engr. Khalil Raza, Scientific Officer visited the Leech Farm of the University of Tehran, Iran on April 28th, 2017. Prof. Soomro appreciated the opportunity extended by Prof. Masoumeh Malek, Professor of Zoology and Prof. Alireza Sari, Professor of Marine Biology at the University of Tehran for taking their time out to make this visit possible. Prof. Soomro also appreciated Prof. Malek’s passion in this field and her contribution towards the development and management of this farm out of her own funds.
Prof. Malek explained that medicinal leech has been in use and received considerable attention in various fields throughout the history of human activity. Prof. Malek informed that Leech therapy is used for plastic and reconstructive surgery, migraine, problems with veins, eczema, depression, reducing high blood pressure, stroke, arthritis, rheumatoid diseases and gout. Some leech therapists consider it as a natural botox. As a matter of fact, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of USA approved leeches as a medical device in 2004, she added. Moreover, they can also be used for producing natural pharmaceutical products.
Even though the medical use of leech is systematically growing, the wild leech population has been considered endangered by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 1987. In many European countries medicinal leech is even extinct. Therefore, to meet the demand of the market and to avoid further exploitation of the natural resources, development of leech farming is necessary, she said. Nowadays many countries such as Germany, France, Britain, Turkey, Malaysia, Russia breed leeches. Dr. Malek expressed that for establishing this leech farm on the outskirts of Tehran; for practical learning, she visited different leech farms in Malaysia, Germany, France, Britain, Russia and also San Diego University. The idea from these farms and also personal experience in the lab helped us to improve our breeding system, she added. In summer 2015, Prof. Malek established the first automated system in breeding the leeches.
However, the leech market is still struggling to meet the demand for the certified leeches, which forced the therapists to order naturally collected leeches. This poses a serious epidemiological danger to transmit diseases and also increases the risk of anthropogenic effect on the status of natural leech population. To resolve this problem, the leech production should be increased. Prof. Malek uses an indoor facility for winter and a natural pond for summer (from June to mid-September), when the natural conditions are suitable for the breeding. Prof. Malek extended her support and collaborate with other scientists to develop similar leech farms in other ECO member countries, including Pakistan.