My friend, Sara, recently called me to ask about using fish skin to treat burns – part of the plot on a television program she recently watched. I remembered reading about a baby bear whose feet sustained third-degree burns in the California wildfires last year. A veterinarian from USC treated her with tilapia skin dressings and her feet healed completely. So, even though it sounded a little far-fetched, I did some research and here is what I found out:
Artificial skin and skin grafting and the older gauze-and-cream dressings are the usual treatments for second and third degree burns in the USA. But artificial skin, and live human and porcine skin grafting are expensive. Gauze- and silvadene or topical antibiotic dressings must be changed at least once every day, a painful process. But resourceful physicians in Brazil and other developing countries have been using sterilized tilapia skin, a rich source of collagen, for burn dressings with great success. In the Middle East, where porcine products are forbidden, tilapia has found a significant following as well.
Dr Jamie Peyton, DVM of University of California, Davis, the same veterinarian who cared for the bear’s burned feet, recently flew to Great Britain. There, she applied sterilized tilapia skins to chemical burns on the face of a pony, whose eyes and lips were swollen shut. The sterilized biological dressings were sutured in place, from forehead to chin. One day later, the pony was could see, eat, was pain-free and being patted!
This is not a home remedy! The fish skins are first treated with chemicals to kill bacteria, then irradiated to destroy any virus that may be present, and finally sutured in place.
During my research, I also learned about ReCell, an amazing product for burn care developed with funding from the US Department of Defense. Instead of using painful skin grafts, researchers at Avita Medical (Cambridge, United Kingdom), have found a way to take a tiny sample of healthy skin and put it into suspension where the individual cells disperse. Within 30 minutes, the suspension is sprayed on the burned area and used to treat a skin wound 80 times larger than the sample taken! The disaggregated cells behave like those at an acute wound‘s edge: The suspension introduces the primary intention, cell-signaling associated with wound healing across the surface area of the wound. Melanocytes included in the spray progressively deposit melanin over several months, and the patient’s natural skin color returns!
Mahalo for all you do!
For more information, visit