Doctors are trying an unorthodox approach to treat burn victims — using fish skin

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Reuters

Brazillian doctors are taking an experimental approach to treating burns: using tilapia skin.

Traditionally, burns are treated using pig and human tissue, which transfer collagen, a healing protein, to the victims’ skin. In Fortaleza, Brazil, however, those tissues weren’t readily available.

That shortage led researchers at the José Frota Institute to turn to tilapia as an alternative treatment for people in the community who suffered from burns.

Here’s the story of how the team discovered this unconventional new approach.


Second- and third-degree burns are painful, and occasionally deadly depending on how widespread they are on the body. Using tissue can often help speed up the healing process. But at the José Frota Institute, doctors were only able to use burn creams and gauze that had to be changed out frequently, a painful process.

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Reuters

So the team looked for other options, including sterilized tilapia skin. When they analyzed the tilapia’s skin, they found something unexpected.

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Reuters

“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,” Dr. Edmar Maciel, a burn specialist at the institute told Stat News.

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Reuters

Source: Stat News


Tilapia is a common fish found in Brazil’s rivers and fish farms, which makes the skin readily accessible for the experimental treatment.

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Reuters

In some cases, the sterilized tilapia skin can be left on until the patient’s skin starts to scar. But in more extreme cases, the tilapia needs to be changed out, though not as frequently as the gauze-and-cream combination does. Here, doctors wrap a child’s burnt skin with tilapia skin.

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Reuters

Tilapia skin also appears to relieve some of the pain. Car mechanic Antonio Janio used the treatment after getting a burn on his arm. “Use the tilapia skin. It’s excellent,” he told Reuters. “It takes the pain away. You do not need to take medicine. In my case, I did not need it, thank God.”

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Reuters

Source: Reuters


The tilapia skin is also relatively inexpensive, costing 75 cents less than traditional bandages per application. That’s in part because it’s considered fish-farm waste.

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Reuters

Once the packaged skin is treated to sterilize it and kill off any viruses, it can be refrigerated and will keep for up for two years.

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Reuters

Source: Stat News


For now, the method is still in clinical trials, with 56 people receiving treatment with the skins already. Eventually, though, the practice could spread to other countries, including the US. “I’m willing to use anything that might actually help a patient,” Dr. Jeanne Lee, the interim burn director with the University of California at San Diego, told Stat News.

source
Reuters

Source: Stat News