In place of the usual cold bandages, doctors have started using fish skin to treat bad burns, which is an unusual marine material.
They think that it will be a cheaper and better way to treat the pain and will also save money.
Researchers all over the world have been looking into how to use fish skin to treat burn victims. The question has been which species is best for the job, with some scientists using tilapia.
Now, an Icelandic genetics company called Kerecis thinks it has a solution. It is the first treatment for burns that has been cleared by the FDA. It is made from the skin of Atlantic cod.
This is How the Fish Skin is Used
When Kerecis’s Omega3 SurgiBind is grafted onto burned or otherwise damaged human skin, healthy human cells slowly grow across the fish skin, fixing the wound underneath.
“This is how the fish skin is used: The doctor gets our fish skin in a clean package. Gudmundur Fertram Sigurjonsson, founder, president, and CEO of Keracis, told Newsweek, “She looks at the wound and then uses a knife to cut away all the dead tissue. This makes the wound red and bleed.”
“The fish skin is then put into the hole, and a wound dressing is put on top of it. We only make the skin of the fish. Wound bandages from any store can be put on top. The healthy cells from the wound’s edge will then crawl into the fish skin and, over time, change it into human skin. The patient never gets rid of the fish skin.”
In the small fishing town of Isafjordur, Iceland, 20 miles south of the Arctic Circle, a company called Kerecis makes fish skin grafts. It uses things that would otherwise go to waste in the fishing business. The fish skin can be used for many different things because it is strong, flexible, and doesn’t tear easily. It only needs to be rehydrated quickly with saline before it can be used.
The American Burn Association’s National Burn Repository says that about 40,000 people are hospitalized each year because they got burnt. This means that about half a million people in the U.S. get burned each year.
Burns are damage to the skin that is caused by heat or chemicals. The type of burn depends on how many layers of skin are hurt. Our skin has three layers: the outer epidermis, the dermis, which has blood vessels, nerve ends, sweat glands, and hair follicles, and the subcutis, which is the deepest layer of tissue.
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, burns of the first degree, also called superficial burns, only affect the skin. Burns of the second degree, also called partial thickness burns, also affect the dermis. Third-degree burns, also called full-thickness burns, go all the way to the subcutis and can hurt the bones, muscles, and tendons underneath.
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A Test Study of the Technology at Atrium Health Pineville in 2019
A test study of the technology at Atrium Health Pineville in 2019 found that using fish skin to treat burns cut down on the size of the wound, made the patient feel less pain, and sped up the healing and recovery process.
It can also be used for other kinds of skin damage, such as cuts caused by diabetes or being hit by something.
On its website, Kerecis tells the story of a person whose fish-skin treatment saved a leg. Chester Kitt, a 70-year-old fisherman from Seattle, had to have part of his foot removed. After the surgery, he got a wound on his foot that was hard to heal because he had diabetes. People worried that he would have to lose his whole foot.
Kitt talks about how hard it was for him to get his wound to heal. He even had to crawl around his house on his hands and knees.
But Kitt says that after only three weeks of treatment with Kerecis, his wound was completely healed. This let him walk again, keep his foot, and recover his freedom.
A paper in the journal Military Medicine says that using fish skin lowers the chance of an auto-immune reaction or the spread of disease, which can happen when cadaver and pig skin grafts are used.
A UN study says this is because the fish cells and all of the fish’s DNA are taken out of the fish skin structure. This means that the human body doesn’t recognize the skin graft as a foreign body, and it happily takes over the skin structure.
The fish skin graft can’t spread diseases like mad cow disease or swine flu that can be passed between skin patches from animals or dead people.
“Cod is a cold water fish, and there is no risk of getting a virus from a cold water fish to a human because the cold water is 34 degrees and the human body is 98.6 degrees,” Sigurjonsson said. “There is also no chemical waste stream from the factory, so making and getting regulatory approval for cod-fish products is pretty easy.”
The Skin of the Pond Fish Tilapia is a Good Way to Treat Burns
Researchers at the Federal University of Ceará in Brazil and other places have also found that the skin of the pond fish tilapia is a good way to treat burns.
“Our preclinical studies have shown that tilapia skin is an excellent source of type I collagen,” Maria Elisa Quezado Lima Verde, an associate professor in implant dentistry at Christus University Center in Brazil and a researcher into tilapia skin grafts, told Newsweek.
She said that it works like a biological barrier, keeping the skin from drying out and relieving pain. It also keeps the gauze from sticking to the skin and making it necessary to change the bandage. She also said that, as a side effect, it costs less than other treatments.
But Sigurjonsson says that because tilapia live in warm water, they may not be as good for human skin grafts because they are more likely to cause an infection. He said that this is because viruses in the fish may have gotten used to body temperatures like ours.
“Tilapia is an experiment, and regulatory bodies like the FDA in Europe and the U.S. have not approved it,” Sigurjonsson said.
Kerecis wants to keep improving its cod-skin graft so that it can be used to fix hernias and rebuild breasts, among other things. It also wants to use it in mouth surgery, tooth implants, and wound healing.
“We feel like we make a difference in people’s lives every day,” Sigurjonsson said. “We keep patients from having to have limbs cut off because of diabetic wounds, we heal burn wounds, and we give surgeons an important tool in the operating room.”
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