Tilapia for Treatment of Skin Wounds

Research has demonstrated many benefits for using tilapia skin as a wound dressing.

Researchers identified that tilapia provides all the ingredients skin needs to heal: moisture, Type 1 collagen and some resistance to bacterial colonization. iStock/Rawintanpin

We’re all familiar with the use of silver sulfadiazine cream for wound care—and in particular, for burns and chronic wounds—because of its soothing and antimicrobial properties. Other treatments have been used for human burn patients, such as pig or human skin application to help maintain moisture and provide collagen that promotes healing.

In Brazil, researchers have turned to using an abundant resource, tilapia, for chronic wounds and burns. This freshwater fish is readily present in Brazil’s rivers and fish farms. Until recently, the fish skin has been discarded, but now it is serving an important use.

The researchers identified that tilapia provides all the ingredients skin needs to heal: moisture, Type 1 collagen and some resistance to bacterial colonization. Healing proceeds quickly with tilapia skin applied as an occlusive dressing. Human patients further state that they need less pain medication, and in some cases, none at all.

Tilapia skin is prepared with sterilization and irradiation that allows it to last for up to two years when packaged and refrigerated. The fish odor is also removed. The great advantage is that tilapia, applied as an occlusive dressing, is left in place for around 10 days under a bandage as opposed to what is usually experienced by patients—the painful process of changing gauze bandages every one to two days.

Research has demonstrated the following beneficial properties of tilapia occlusive dressings:

  • adheres to the wound
  • avoids retention of exudates and loss of fluids
  • promotes a barrier to bacterial invasion
  • provides pain relief
  • peels away easily at bandage change

Tilapia was used successfully at the University of California’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Davis on a mountain lion cub whose pads were burned in California wildfires. Those veterinarians also were called in to use the technique on a horse in England that was severely burned when acid was thrown on it. In the future, this might be a readily available product for use in equine skin care. 

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