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mar 15, 2017

This Brazilian doctor is saving burn victims with tilapia skin

Dr. Edmar Maciel is the Brazilian doctor behind a series of clinical trials using tilapia skin on burn victims. President of the Burns Support Institute in Fortaleza, Maciel is testing the popular fish skin on second- and third-degree burns.

“After they put on the tilapia skin, it really relieved the pain,” said fisherman Antônio dos Santos in an interview.

Animal skin has in fact long served as a natural gauze for burns. However, these human, pig, and alternative skin treatments are expensive. The three skin banks which do provide such treatments in Brazil can only meet 1 percent of the country’s demand.

Due to such scarcity, public doctors must patch up burned skin with gauze and silver sulfadiazine cream. While the cream helps prevent infection, it doesn’t actually remove contaminated tissue or heal the skin. Furthermore, victims need to re-apply fresh dressings every day – an extremely painful process for exposed flesh.

The tilapia skin, however, only needs one application to the injured skin to work its magic. In addition to its natural tension and moisture content, tilapia skin also contains type 1 and 3 collagen proteins, which are essential to the scarring process. In fact, the fish skin contains more such proteins than other skins, including human skin itself.

“[The tilapia skin] adheres to the wound and creates what we call a buffer effect,” says Dr. Maciel, based in Brazil’s northeast where there are no acting skin banks.

After its application, the patient keeps the tilapia skin on until the skin heals naturally underneath. The fish skin then dries and peels off on its own. Only for deep second- or third-degree burns does the skin bandage need to be changed, however less frequently than the gauze dressings.

A common commercial fish, tilapia skin is often discarded before sale. Of course, the tilapia skin in these treatments go through an intensive process of sterilizing agents, radiation to kill viruses, packaging and finally refrigeration, which allows the skin to be stored for up to two years.

So far, 52 patients have received this treatment with great results and no outstanding complications.

In addition to these clinical trials with tilapia skin, Brazilian researchers are exploring the composition of human, pig, and frog skin for such treatments. Doctors are also comparing the costs of this treatment with traditional burn treatments, like the gauze dressings.

Specialists hope that these skin treatments, if proven effective, can eventually be industrialized and offered in the public health system.