March 30, 2017

Burn patients: Tilapia skin to the rescue

Burn patients: Tilapia skin to the rescue

A burn patient being treated with tilapia skin

By Ebele Orakpo
with Agency report

Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention. This has proved true in Brazil, where some scientists have used the skin of the Tilapia fish to treat burn patients. Tilapia, also known as epuya in Yoruba language, is widely farmed in Brazil and so will be available always.

ACCORDING to the leader of the team of researchers, Dr. Edmar Maciel, a plastic surgeon and burn specialist, the three functional skin banks in Brazil cannot meet 99 per cent of the national demand, hence the need for a cheaper and more available alternative. Usually, human skin is used for grafting in treatment of burn patients. Tilapia skin is a good alternative, better than the usual gauze and silver sulfadiazine cream used to cover burns.

The tilapia

The skin of the tilapia which could be considered as the rejected stone, has now become the chief cornerstone, a life saver! Prior to this discovery, patients with second and third degree burns in Brazil were treated with gauze and silver sulfadiazine cream unlike what obtains in developed countries where human skin, pig skin and artificial alternatives are widely available.

A burn patient being treated with tilapia skin

Since Brazil cannot afford these, they started testing the skin of the tilapia as a bandage for second and third-degree burns.

Tilapia skin vs gauze bandages

The researchers in the course of their experiments discovered that tilapia skin has many advantages over gauze and silver sulfadiazine with no side effects and works better than human skin grafts.

Unlike the gauze bandages which need to be changed daily with the attendant pain, stress and in some instances, reopening of wounds, the sterilized tilapia skin dressing does not need to be changed daily.

Tilapia Fish

According to a video produced by STAT, a health-oriented news  website, for superficial second-degree burns, the tilapia skin is applied only once and stays until the burns are healed. This takes nine to 11 days.

Although the gauze and silver sulfadiazine bandage “prevents the burns from being infected,  it doesn’t help in terms of debriding (removing dead, contaminated or adherent tissue and/or foreign material) a burn or necessarily helping it heal,” said Dr. Jeanne Lee, interim Burn Director at the Regional Burn Center, University of California at San Diego.

Analysis of tilapia skin

“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 Maciel.

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, Maciel said.

Antônio dos Santos, a fisherman who sustained burns to his entire right arm when a gas canister on his boat exploded, was treated with tilapia skin as part of a clinical trial. “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 said.