Skip to content

You are using an outdated browser

Internet Explorer is not supported by this site and Microsfot has stopped releasing updates, therefore you may encounter issues whilst visiting this site and we strongly recommend that you upgrade your browser for modern web functionality, a better user experience and improved security.

Upgrade my browser

Could fish skin be used to bandage burns and ease the healing process?

Could fish skin be used to bandage burns and ease the healing process?
Source: BrightVibes

Doctors in Brazil are testing the skin of the popular tilapia fish as a bandage for serious burns, and it has some unexpected advantages.

Innovation to meet a need

Doctors in Fortaleza, Brazil, are carrying out clinical trials using the skin of the widely consumed tilapia fish as a bandage for second- and third-degree burns. The innovation came about to meet a need. While the skins of different animals have been used in the treatment of burns in developed countries for some time, Brazil lacks the human skin, pig skin, and artificial alternatives that are readily available in the US.

Until now the skin of the popular fish was simply thrown away Trial patient Joshué Bezerra seems very happy with the experimental treatment. If clinical trials show continued success, doctors hope a company will process the skins on an industrial scale and sell it to the public health system. Source: facebook statnews

The three skin banks in Brazil can meet only 1% of demand

"The three functional skin banks in Brazil can meet only 1 percent of the national demand", said Dr. Edmar Maciel, a plastic surgeon and burn specialist leading the clinical trials with tilapia skin, in an interview for STAT NEWSAs a result, public health patients in Brazil are normally bandaged with gauze and silver sulfadiazine cream.

The gauze-and-cream dressing must be changed every day, a painful process. In the burn unit at Fortaleza’s José Frota Institute, patients are visibly distressed as their wounds are unwrapped and washed.

However this may not have to be the case for much longer with the skin of the tilapia fish. It is a fish widely farmed in Brazil for food, and whose skin, until now, was simply thrown away. Unlike the gauze bandages, the sterilised tilapia skin goes on and remains in place throughout the healing process.

Dr. Maciel continued “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,” Maciel said. “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.”

In patients with superficial second-degree burns, the doctors apply the fish skin and leave it until the patient scars naturally. For deep second-degree burns, the tilapia bandages must be changed a few times over several weeks of treatment, but still far less often than the gauze with cream. The tilapia treatment also cuts down healing time by up to several days and reduces the use of pain medication, Dr. Maciel said.

The first woman to receive fish skin treatment A woman who suffered second-degree burns has become the first person treated with fish skin on her wounds. Maria Ines Candido da Silva, 36, survived burns to her arms, neck and face when a gas cooker canister exploded in a terrible workplace accident. Doctors offered an alternative therapy to traditional ointments by dressing her wounds with the skin of a Tilapia fish. The fish skin was chosen as it contains high levels of collagen type one and high degrees of humidity which help speed up healing and provide patients with essential proteins. Source: Youtube Hindustan times

This could be just what the doctor ordered for developing countries

"In countries such as the US, animal-based skin substitutes require levels of scrutiny from the Food and Drug Administration and animal rights groups that can drive up costs. Given the substantial supply of donated human skin, tilapia skin is unlikely to arrive at American hospitals anytime soon." Said Dr. Jeanne Lee, interim burn director at the the regional burn centre at the University of California at San Diego.

But it may be just what the doctor ordered in developing countries, particularly as this comparatively inexpensive commodity is normally thrown away.

“I’m willing to use anything that might actually help a patient,” Dr. Lee said. “It may be a good option depending on what country you’re talking about. But I also think the problem is that you need to find places that have the resources to actually process the skin and sterilise it, and make sure it doesn’t have diseases.”

The article from STAT NEWS concluded that in addition to the current clinical trials, researchers in Brazil are conducting histological studies that compare the composition of human, tilapia, pig, and frog skins. They are also conducting studies on the comparative costs of tilapia skin and conventional burn treatments. Should clinical trials show continued success, doctors hope a company will process the skins on an industrial scale and sell it to the public health system.

Main photo: STAT News

In the U.K. and other developed countries, treating burns with cells obtained from pigs is routine

The following images show treatment using a synthetic skin covering called a Biobrane It is made from a silicone thin layer that has small holes in it. Through these tiny pinprick holes, wound secretions find their way out. This layer protects the burn from the environment.

Underneath the silicone layer there is a nylon mesh upon which is bonded proteins extracted from pigs. These substances bond strongly with the surface of superficial burns. After about 2 weeks, the skin is healed and the Biobrane may be peeled off. Biobrane is used frequently in children who have sustained scald injuries providing good wound cover and excellent pain relief. Source: burncentrecare.co.uk

Facebook user Simon Tinsley uploaded pictures of his daughter's treatment involving a membrane impregnated with pigskin. This image was taken during treatment.
'My daughter. Not before, but during the application. I wasn't allowed into the theatre because of risk of infection. At this stage Amazing!' Simon commented with this picture.
Pigskin cell treatment in the United Kingdom: during Facebook user Simon Tinsley uploaded pictures of his daughter’s treatment involving a membrane impregnated with pigskin. This image was taken during treatment.
‘My daughter. Not before, but during the application. I wasn’t allowed into the theatre because of risk of infection. At this stage Amazing!’ Simon commented with this picture. Source: Facebook/Simon Tinsley
Alongside this picture taken after his daughter's treatment, Simon added 'Then after all the hell, it was easy to be advised that, under no circumstances, put this skin in direct sunlight. Because, it's new skin. As in a new born babies' skin!'
The results are quite remarkable.
Pigskin cell treatment in the United Kingdom: after Alongside this picture taken after his daughter’s treatment, Simon added ‘Then after all the hell, it was easy to be advised that, under no circumstances, put this skin in direct sunlight. Because, it’s new skin. As in a new born babies’ skin!’
The results are quite remarkable. Source: Facebook/Simon Tinsley
Make an Impact

FIRST AID FOR BURNS: do you know what to do in the case of a burning or scalding incident?

Learn what you should and shouldn't do when tending to first-, second- and third-degree burns.