Genetically-modified medical leeches cling to the rubber waders of a Tiperon University-Blacktip researcher in Blacktip Island’s booby pond nature preserve. (photo courtesy Christian Fisher)
A dearth of medical professionals on Blacktip Island has prompted local geneticists to breed strains of medical leeches to address the isolated Caribbean island’s health needs, island health authorities announced Thursday.
“Health care on Blacktip Island is hit-and-miss,” Public Safety director Rocky Shore said. “We don’t have full-time doctors or nurses, so we rely a lot on volunteers. You’re never sure who you’ll get at the clinic.
“Talking with researchers at the university, this back to the future approach seemed our best bet,” Shore said. “They’ve engineered seven different types of leeches to take care of the most common island ailments.”
Tiperon University-Blacktip scientists say the throwback to Medieval medicine is a natural on Blacktip Island.
“Blacktip’s pretty rustic, and it’s lousy with leeches,” said Dr. Azul Tang, head of TU-B’s nuclear biology department. “Not the ones hanging out at resort bars. The ones that crawl out of the booby pond after a good rain.
“Standard wound cleaning leeches were a given,” Tang said. “We’ve also bred specialized strains to treat diabetes, high blood pressure, substance abuse, depression, food poisoning and perform liposuction. They’re local, holistic, reasonably natural and you don’t get much more organic that the booby pond.”
Some locals, though, are leery of the new protocols.
“There’s major bio-ethical concerns here,” government watchdog Wade Soote said. “They’re creating new species, then slapping them on people without any clinical trials or any sorts of safeguards. This isn’t medical care. It’s a bad horror movie.
“We’re picketing the university labs this afternoon,” Soote said. “We’re urging everyone to boycott the clinic, too. Unless it’s something life threatening.”
Shore was quick to allay residents’ concerns.
“With no doctor on island, it’s this or nothing,” Shore said. “And these leeches come out of the pond muck already mutated. We just tweaked their DNA a bit more.
“We gave them plenty of trials, too, in the clinic,” Shore said. “These suckers make better financial sense than doctors. We don’t have to pay salaries or benefits, we can chuck them back in the pond when they stop working, and insurance pays for them.”
A handful of locals, meanwhile, have embraced the new treatment option.
“You can’t argue with success,” said island resident B.C. Flote. “Couple of swallowed leeches worked wonders for my wife’s eating disorder. And they cured little Shelley Bottoms of her anxiety attacks after her run-in with the mersquatch Christmas morning.
“Plus, come Sunday morning, there’s nothing like a leech to the forehead to get rid of a hangover,” Flote said.