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Brazilian Doctors Are Using Fish Skin to Treat Burn Victims

It might not be pretty, but it is effective.

The newest innovation in burn treatment?
The newest innovation in burn treatment? Jeremy Weate/CC BY 2.0

Tilapia isn’t just a delicious seafood option. The little fish is lately being used to treat severe burn victims.

As Reuters is reporting (along with a series of somewhat unsettling process photos), doctors in Brazil have begun experimenting with using the skin of the tilapia fish as a treatment option for 2nd and 3rd degree burn victims.

To prepare the skin, it is cut into thin strips, then sterilized and irradiated before being placed into cold storage, where it can last for up to two years. When deployed, the strips are placed on the damaged areas of the patient’s skin, almost like a cross-species skin graft, acting as a natural bandage that is more soothing and less painful than traditional gauze.

The technique itself is not revolutionary, and is usually performed with human or pig skin. Many Brazilian hospitals aren’t able to keep traditional skins in stock, and have turned to the abundant tilapia in the country’s rivers. Researchers say they’ve found fish skin works almost as well as human or pig skin, even if it looks a bit more alien.

As a waste product of the local fishing industry, tilapia skin has the added benefit of being cheaper than medical-grade burn cream.