MAY 27, 2017 11:29 AM PDT

Fishy Business: Tilapia Skin Saves Burn Victims

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

In an effort to help burn victims, Brazilian doctors are turning to an unconventional, never-been-tested-before source for skin bandage: tilapia skin. Patients undergoing treatment in the landmark clinical trial look like characters in the newest sci-fi release. But, the fish skin could be what saves them from second- and third-degree burns in a country that’s short on traditional skin alternatives.

Image: VOA News

"The use of tilapia skin on burns is unprecedented," said Odorico de Morais, a professor at the Federal University of Ceara in Northern Brazil. "The fish skin is usually thrown away, so we are using this product to convert it into something of social benefit."

But turning to fish skin as a burn therapy was not done just out of the desire to reduce waste - it had to be done out of necessity. In Brazil, there are three skin banks that carry conventional human skin, pig skin, and artificial alternatives to treat burns. But the supply is extremely low - the banks provide only about one percent of the national demand for skin therapy.

Without skin grafts, doctors have to use gauze bandages and silver sulfadiazine cream, a topical antibiotic. Whereas skin tissues would keep the burns moist and also provide collagen to promote healing, the bandages are dry, irritating, and need to be changed regularly.

Thus, de Morais and his team decided to test out tilapia skin. The fish are abundant in the freshwaters of Brazil. Once cleaned, sterilized, and irradiated to kill all pathogens, the skin can be applied directly to the burn area. A bandage would be required for deep second-degree burns, but no creams are necessary. Patients can wear the skin for 10 days without changing. And at that point, the tilapia skin would have loosened from the burn and be peeled off.

“We got a great surprise when we saw that the amount of collagen proteins, types 1 and 3, which are very important for scarring, exist in large quantities in tilapia skin, even more than in human skin and other skins,” said Edmar Maciel, a plastic surgeon and burn specialist, who is leading the clinical trials. “Another factor we discovered is that the amount of tension, of resistance in tilapia skin is much greater than in human skin. Also the amount of moisture.”

These properties contributed to speeding up the burn healing process by several days. And because patients also don’t have to endure the pain of regular bandage changes, the need for medication is cut significantly.

"Use the tilapia skin. It's excellent," said Antonio Janio, a car mechanic who suffered a burned arm on the job. "It takes the pain away. You do not need to take medicine. In my case, I did not need it, thank God."

Researchers estimate that the fish skin is 75 percent cheaper than bandage and silver sulfadiazine cream. Taken together, it seems the benefits of this unorthodox treatment can’t be beat. And it probably doesn’t hurt that for a few days, patients get to live out their dreams of being a sci-fi character.

Additional source: Reuters, Stat News

About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
You May Also Like
AUG 23, 2020
Technology
Cyborg Technology Could Advance Diagnostics
AUG 23, 2020
Cyborg Technology Could Advance Diagnostics
Although it’s true, "cyborgs" are technically science fiction being the fact that they are part human an ...
SEP 03, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
Diagnosing Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity
SEP 03, 2020
Diagnosing Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity
Many clinicians once thought that only celiac disease caused gluten intolerance. But some people without it report gastr ...
SEP 14, 2020
Health & Medicine
Direct Amplification: Rapid, Extraction-Free RT-qPCR Results
SEP 14, 2020
Direct Amplification: Rapid, Extraction-Free RT-qPCR Results
As the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic continues to rage across the United States and around the globe, the demand for COVID-19 test ...
OCT 05, 2020
Cancer
Does Having an Appendectomy Increase Your Risk for Cancer?
OCT 05, 2020
Does Having an Appendectomy Increase Your Risk for Cancer?
Cancer research is more than just the study of diagnostics and novel therapies. Researchers also investigate the causes ...
NOV 16, 2020
Microbiology
Using the Microbiome to Diagnose or Treat Autism
NOV 16, 2020
Using the Microbiome to Diagnose or Treat Autism
Autism is a complex disorder that has sent researchers searching for what is causing it, as the rates continue to rise. ...
DEC 03, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
Spit Contains Concussion Clues
DEC 03, 2020
Spit Contains Concussion Clues
Drowsiness, confusion, headaches, and sensitivity to light — it’s sometimes hard for doctors to spot the sig ...
Loading Comments...