Using fish skin to heal burns can be cheaper and less painful than bandages, a scientist has said.
Tilapia skin is increasingly being used on burns due to it being rich in moisture and a type of collagen that is similar to the protein found in human skin. This is thought to interact with a patient’s immune system to speed up healing.
More than 300 patients worldwide have had the unusual therapy, which shows up as a fishy pattern even after it has been sterilized and the scales removed.
Although many patients can be reluctant to have fish skin wrapped around their burns, a growing number of children are actually arriving at hospitals requesting the ‘bandage’.
‘The major concerns were whether the skins would subsequently come off, if the fish odour would remain,’ Dr. Rocha told The Times.
‘With the passage of time and the success of the research, the patients already arrive at the hospital wanting the treatment with the skin of the tilapia.
‘In relation to children the skin ends up being kind of playful, like: “Gaining a skin and looking like a superhero”.’
Once sterilized, tilapia skin undergoes radiation therapy to kill any lingering viruses. It can then be stored for up to two years if refrigerated, before simply being cut to size and placed over a burn instead of a bandage. The skin is then removed after around one week, with no need for daily dressing changes.
Tilapia skin has been shown to be more resistant than the previously used pig skin, which enables it to withstand stretching. Wounds may also close faster, with patients reporting less pain, when treated with fish skin over the traditional silver sulfadiazine, according to unpublished research presented at conferences.
The idea reportedly first came from the Brazilian cosmetic surgeon Dr. Marcelo Borges after he read about the use of tilapia skin to make bags, belts and shoes.
The fish skin is now taken as a by-product of the food industry, with farmers being happy to provide it for free due to the ‘medical and humanitarian impact’, according to Carlos Roberto Koscky Paier, a biotechnology technician at the Federal University of Ceara.
He was speaking at the World Innovation Summit for Health in Doha last month.
The unusual approach has previously been used in vaginal-reconstruction surgery, as well as by vets at UC Davis Veterinary Hospital after a series of pets got burned in a camp fire earlier this month.