One aspect of nature that fascinates me is that so often it holds the solutions to our problems, including health issues. This weekend, I came across a Twitter post about another such application.
Tilapia is a white fish that had its peak of popularity in the United States in the early 2000s. It was a low-fat, high-protein dinner staple. Then there was a flurry of publicity around environmentally harmful farming practices and concerns about its actual contributions to your health. Tilapia is still around, but it’s no longer the star on everyone’s plate.
Now, tilapia is having somewhat of a comeback, but not as a food. It seems that its skins and scales have promise in the management of wounds, particularly for burns.
Here’s why it works: Tilapia’s skin holds a large amount of type 1 collagen, the kind that is often used in beauty products for hydration and to enhance elasticity. Next, the fish skin’s natural microbes do not pose a threat to human skin nor its microbial colonies. Finally, the structure of the skin and scales has the flexibility and resilience needed to stay in place for days, and sometimes weeks.
When tilapia skin was applied to a patient’s burn lesions in a clinical study, some healing (reepithelialization) was seen within 12 days.
Consequently, tilapia skin became the first nationally studied animal skin to be registered for the use of treatment of burns. Since then, it has been used on additional burn patients. Other studies have tried it to address diabetic skin ulcers. Veterinarians have even applied it to their animal patients.
While this is not a typical natural history posting, it is about a fish species. (Actually, tilapia is a collection of nearly 100 types of cichlid fish.) I did a fairly extensive Google search and could find no evidence of other fish species used for this purpose. (However, there are other animal skins used.)
The post gave me cause to think. What if tilapia didn’t exist anymore through extinction? What other species have properties that we have yet to discover? If we can’t care enough to save these creatures because they have value just as themselves and as part of the overall ecosystem, can we decide to save them because someday, they may save us?
Thanks to @Emma_Hollen for posting the tweet that sparked the idea for this post. It can be seen at: https://twitter.com/Emma_Hollen/status/1368887666905919488?s=20
Regarding use in burn patients — Journal of Surgical Case Reports. 2019 Published online 2019 Jun 14. DOI: 10.1093/jscr/rjz181
For use in diabetic skin ulcers — https://www.woundsresearch.com/article/acellular-fish-skin-graft-use-diabetic-lower-extremity-wound-healing-retrospective-study-58
For use in veterinary applications — https://bmcvetres.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12917-020-02693-w