Fisherman Antônio dos Santos received serious burns on his arm after a gas explosion on his boat. Josué Bezerra Jr. suffered burns while working as an electrical supervisor. Maria Ines Candido da Silva was injured by a gas cooker explosion. The treatment that the doctors offered these patients was unconventional. Instead of gauze with cream, the doctors applied skin of the tilapia fish on top of his burns. The relief was instantaneous.
“After they put on the tilapia skin, it really relieved the pain. I thought it was really interesting that something like this could work,” he told STAT news.
This tilapia-skin treatment has so far been tried on 52 burn patients in the clinical study. There has not been a single complication. Instead, the patients have received many benefits that normal bandage does not provide.
The Benefits of the Fish Skin Bandaging
When Brazilian doctors first started analyzing tilapia skin, they were pleasantly surprised by its abilities:
“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. 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,” said Dr. Edmar Maciel, plastic surgeon and the president of the Burns Support Institute.
The benefits of the tilapia skin treatment are numerous:
- Wound wrapped by tilapia skin requires less time to heal.
- The fish skins produces a buffer effect; it blocks outside contamination, and prevents the loss of moisture and proteins from the wound.
- This treatment is less painful than normal bandaging. (However, Josué said the first night his skin burned like it was on fire, but afterwards it was fine).
- Patients have no or less need for pain medication.Fish skin bandage does not need to be taken off every day. It stays on until the wound heals. (Traditional bandaging needs to be changed daily, which can be uncomfortable and even painful).
How Is Tilapia Skin Used?
Tilapia is the first aquatic animal in the world to be tested on burn patients. Other countries have been experimenting with using other animal skins for years, such as pig skin. There is a lack of pig skin in Brazil, as well as a lack of other natural and superficial alternatives, but there is an abundance of tilapia skin, which fish farms usually just throw away.
In northeast Brazil tilapia skins are currently used in clinical trials for second-degree and third-degree burn patients.
The idea for this treatment surfaced because of a need for better options for burn patients. The World Health Organization estimated that in 2004, about 11 million people suffered severe burns and required medical attention worldwide. The current treatment for burns right now is bandaging them to prevent infection and keeping the skin clean. But this treatment needs daily attention, can be painful, and takes a long time to heal. Second-degree burns take longer than three weeks to heal with regular bandage, while using tilapia skins takes up to 11 days on average.
The tilapia skins are applied on top of the burns, and are kept on until the end of treatment for second degree burns. (The fish skin needs to be changed a few times over the course of weeks of treatment for deeper burns). It took Josué 13 days, at which point the tilapia skin dried and starting to come off. His own skin beneath has already started to scar over.
There are a few procedures that a done in order to make tilapia skins ready to use to help people like Josué.
The skins are sterilized in chlorhexidine, an antiseptic; and then submerged in glycerol. Afterwards, they are sent off for radiosterilization (suing either x-rays or gamma rays), which is the only sure way to kill any viruses. Once ready to use, the skins are refrigerated, and they stay fresh for up to two years.
Brazilian researchers say the tilapia skins are cost-effective and environmentally beneficial, and they hope this treatment will be used in other parts of the world, especially in developing countries, where other options are not available.
Watch a video report:
Doctors in Brazil are testing the skin of the fish tilapia as a bandage for second- and third-degree burns — a innovation that arose from an unmet need. Read the story: https://www.statnews.com/2017/03/02/brazil-tilapia-skin-burns/
Posted by STAT on Thursday, March 2, 2017