On March 9th, 2017 we learned about

Brazilian burn victims successfully treated with tilapia skins

It may seem obvious, but we can’t really function without intact skin. Our largest organ has to help with with everything from temperature regulation to blocking out pathogens, so what do you do when large portions of it are so damaged they can’t function? The answer, if you’re lucky, is to get more skin, wearing it like a bandage or patch until you can heal. In the United States, temporary skin is available in a variety of forms, from donated human skin to pig skin to synthetic options. Other parts of the world don’t have the same infrastructure in place, and are looking to some new sources of skin to help burn patients heal. In Brazil, they’re looking at the skin (but not the scales) from tilapia.

A victim of second degree burns in Brazil is most likely going to be treated with gauze and a silver sulfadiazine cream. This probably matches what you’re used to seeing on burn victims in entertainment media, but it’s actually an unpleasant, labor intensive course of treatment. The gauze and cream basically help fend off infection of the burn site, but they don’t help the injury heal much. On top of that, the gauze needs to be removed daily, a painful process that makes recovery feel all the more agonizing for patients.  While Brazil doesn’t have an established skin bank like the United States, there’s a lot of hope over the amount of fish skins available.

Better than bandages

Tilapia skin has a lot of properties that make it an attractive, if odd looking, treatment option for burn patients. It has very high amounts of collagen proteins, handles mechanical tension well, and does a great job of holding in moisture. It has to be cleaned, prepared and sterilized with radiation before use, but because of the large fishing industry in Brazil, the skins are available in abundance. If clinical testing goes well, it promises to be a huge improvement over gauze.

The patients in the current tests are all responding well. Aside from no reported complications, less severe burns don’t require replacing the skin before the burn has started scarring, saving the patient from painful cleaning and rewrapping procedures. Most patients end up requiring less antibiotics and pain treatment as well. While being covered in descaled fish skin may look a bit more unusual than the gauze we’re used to seeing on TV, patients in clinical tests have been pleased that the skin doesn’t come with any fishy smells as part of the package.

Source: Can tilapia skin be used to bandage burns? by Nadia Sussman, Stat

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