There's some fascinating research going on in Brazil that could save burn victims from unnecessary pain and infections.
In Brazil, fish farming is a big business, but farmers typically throw away the skin from farmed tilapia. Doctors are experimenting with these skins — after they've been sterilized, of course — as bandages for burn victims, reports Stat. (Yes, there are some horror movie scenarios that come to mind, but listen to the science before your mind goes too far.)
The patient is covered in fish skin because researchers have found that collagen proteins, which help skin scar, are abundant in tilapia skin, even more so than in human skin. In a country where human skin, pig skin and other artificial bandage alternatives are in short supply, this tilapia skin research could make a tremendous difference.
When there's no alternative, Brazilian doctors cover burns with traditional bandages, which have to be changed daily to help prevent infection. Changing the bandages is painful, and the bandages don't help the wound heal. The tilapia skin not only can stay on for days or weeks at time, but it also blocks contamination, accelerates the healing process, and reduces the need for pain medication.
Right now the use of sterilized fish skin is limited to clinical trials, but those trials have been promising. Fifty-two patients have been treated using the method, and there have been no complications, barring the movie scenario reminders.
If you're concerned about awaking and finding fish skin covering your body in the hospital, there's not much of a chance of that happening here in the U.S. Donated human skin and animal-based skin substitutes are plentiful. But in Brazil and other developing countries, tilapia skin is a cost-effective solution that has environmentally sustainable side benefits.
You can see the treatment in the video below, along with one burn victim who doesn't mind being turned into a "mutant" as long as it speeds up his healing and alleviates his pain.