Brazilian researchers use fish skin to treat burn victims

The experimental method uses tilapia skin, which the researchers chose because it has a high concentration of collagens.

Mae Owen | May 28, 2017

Fish skin might look nothing like human skin at first glance. But researchers at Brazil's Jose Frota Institute have successfully grafted it onto 56 burn victims and attained highly promising results.

The experimental method uses tilapia skin, which the researchers chose because it has a high concentration of collagens. Collagens are proteins that human skin needs collagen to repair damage such as a severe burn and prevent or minimize scars. A standard treatment for a burn victim in most of the world is to cover the burn site with either pig skin or some of the patient's own skin from another part of his or her body. The collagen from this grafted skin aids healing.

"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.

In Fortaleza, Brazil, where the Jose Frota Institute is located, both types of skin tissue are hard to come by. Tilapia, on the other hand, are plentiful in lakes, rivers, and fish farms throughout Brazil. So the institute tested tilapia skin as a potential cost-effective alternative.

Patients reported great benefits, including decreased pain at their burn sites. The skin can also be preserved for up to two years if refrigerated and is cheaper than conventional human or pig skin.

Clinical trials are ongoing, but researchers may export the treatment to hospitals in the United States in the near future.

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