This year, parts of California were devastated by wildfires. While flora burned to ashes, humans and other animals were running for their lives. In December 2017, two black bears and a young mountain lion were found in backyards with extensive burns to their paws. Treating these wounds with traditional methods proved difficult because animals tend to eat cloth bandages, causing problems in their digestive tract. To make matters worse, one of the bears was pregnant. Vets needed to heal her before she gave birth.

To treat these animals, vets at UC Davis turned to an experimental treatment: tilapia skins. Fish skin contains a lot of collagen, which can  assist healing, and is antibacterial, preventing infections [1]. These properties and more result in expedited healing time and a decreased need for pain medication. Pieces of tilapia skin were sterilized and attached to the paws, where they would stay for several days at a time before falling off or being eaten (safely) by the patients. Incredibly, the bears and lion healed in a matter of weeks, rather than the estimated 6 months. The bears were released back into the wild, and the mountain lion will stay in a rescue center until he is old enough to be released.

Brazil has conducted human trials, but this event marks the first time this procedure was used in the US (outside of television). It is quite possible that the success of these animal trials will spur the FDA to take a closer look at this procedure. It is easy to see how using fish skins could revolutionize burn victims’ recovery process.


[1] Hu et al. 2017. Marine collagen peptides from the skin of Nile Tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus): Characterization and wound healing evaluation.

Managing Correspondent: Zane Wolf

Image Credit: California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Original Article: The Washington Post

Popular Press Articles: ScienceAlert; National Geographic; UC Davis

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