Medical researchers in Brazil have discovered that sterilized skin from tilapia may be used as a “second skin” bandage on patients with severe burn injuries.
In a nation where only one percent of the nation’s need for skin is met by skin banks, the discovery that fish skin can serve as an effective covering for second- and third-degree burn wounds lends weight to the saying necessity is the mother of invention.
The lack of human skin, pig skin, and artificial alternatives means that most Brazilian burn patients are bandaged with silver sulfadiazine cream and cotton gauze. But that method means the gauze has to be removed, the wounds cleaned, retreated and re-bandaged every day – an intensely painful process that makes the halls of a burn-treatment facility sound like a torture chamber.
But the skin of tilapia, a fish that is abundantly farmed in Brazil, contains a lot of silver, which helps prevent burns from becoming infected.
Dr. Edmar Maciel, a plastic surgeon and burn specialist working with tilapia skin on burn patients, told Stat News that there are other potential benefits in using tilapia skin.
“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. Maciel told Stat. “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.”
Researchers have also found that tilapia skin reduces healing time and pain, allowing doctors to administer significantly less pain medication to burn patients. One burn patient being treated with the tilapia skin told Stat that it reduced his pain significantly.
Another giant benefit to the patient is that, unlike gauze, tilapia skin goes on and stays on for longer periods, sparing patients much of the excruciating cleaning and changing process.
While it’s still in the research phase, doctors in Brazil hope that the treatment will lead to private enterprises creating and selling the sterilized tilapia skin to hospitals to meet the country’s need for effective burn injury treatments.
Brazil isn’t the only country experimenting with the use of fish skin for medicinal purposes. According to Righting Injustice blogger Jennifer Walker-Journey, Reykjavik, Iceland-based Kerecis, has won Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval to market an Omega3-rich fish skin for tissue healing as a surgical buttress that can be used in lung, bariatric, gastric, colorectal and other surgeries.
“Kerecis Omega3 SecureMesh is intact fish skin rich in naturally occurring Omega3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. The skin, which is used to regenerate damaged human tissue, has the potential to accelerate healing and has been developed in collaboration with the U.S. Office of Naval Research,” Ms. Walker-Journey writes.