Fish skin: A breakthrough for burn treatment

by - August 02, 2022

Treating patients with burns requires rigorous care. Depending on the degree of the burn, substances such as chlorhexidine or sulfadiazine are used. However, more severe burns such as third-degree burns require more attention, as it is in need of being monitored in a hospital for daily dressings, bandage changes, and careful cleaning of their wounds. However, in order to improve this procedure, specialists with studies similar to Professional Master’s Degree in Major Burns have conducted research into making treatment more feasible for patients.  

Treatment of burns can be expensive, which is why studies of Brazilian researchers have sought out more viable options and have found that the skin of fish, specifically tilapia, can be effective in treating these conditions that require specific attention and treatment.

Fish Skin for Burns Treatment



Nile tilapia as a revolutionary measure


Obtaining human skin donors is usually a costly and difficult task, so it was decided to take alternatives to this problem. In this case, the solution was the tilapia, a fish native to Africa that breeds in both fresh and salt water, as in 2011, the plastic surgeon Marcelo Borges devised a treatment for burns in this skin, who would later share his idea with his colleague Edmar Maciel, who would begin to investigate it; since Nile tilapia skin has large layers of collagen, and is characterised by guiding and defining most tissues, as well as being a great biomaterial component, which enables biodegradability and biocompatibility, favouring its application, in addition, the skin of this animal is particularly known for being full of beneficial fatty acids, which help to retain moisture. 

Before being placed on the affected area, the skin must go through a cleaning and sterilisation process, which consists of removing the scales, muscle tissue, toxins and, of course, the fish smell, which will be stretched in a press to be cut into 10 cm by 20 cm pieces, thus giving a similarity to human skin, as it is more flexible. The pieces are subsequently stored in a freezer at temperatures between 2° and 4° for up to 2 years.

In order to test its efficacy, the study was conducted at the Dr José Frota Institute's Burn Treatment Centre in Ceará, Brazil; 62 patients hospitalised for burns between October 2016 and September 2017 were selected in the centre. 

According to research by João Pessoa University Centre medical student Anna Julie Medeiros Cabral, the following were assessed: the number of times there was an occlusive dressing exchange and days for wound healing, use of analgesics or anaesthetics, pain sensitivity and burn improvement on dressing removal.

Medeiros says the test subjects were randomly divided into two groups: those who were treated with tilapia skin and those who were treated conventionally with sulphadiazine. It is worth mentioning that these groups took into account certain factors such as age, gender, the person responsible for the accident and the segments burned.

The researchers found that patients with the group with severe burns who are treated with tilapia skin have less need for painkillers compared to the group who receive conventional treatments, wound healing is faster, and it benefits the healing process of burns, concretely in the proliferative phase, which increases cell migration and regeneration.  
Note: the healing process is mainly divided into: coagulation, inflammation, proliferation and maturation. 

Although this type of therapy is still under development, as it is a low-cost application with a guaranteed result, it could become an alternative for the treatment of highly supervised burns, Additionally, specialists are investigating the possibility of further uses in other branches of medicine, such as in gynaecology for endoscopy, and studies will be conducted to evaluate the differences in the treatment of burns between pig, dog, human and tilapia skin.

In conclusion


The Nile tilapia skin, although still in a testing and research phase, could become a revolutionary breakthrough in the world of medicine as it is composed of numerous proteins that bring benefits in the treatment of third-degree burns in particular, but also in other fields, being a more accessible and less painless alternative for its patients.

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