World of Tomorrow: Getting Out of Fishy Situations

The heat of this summer — even I cannot escape it! But the World of Tomorrow offers soothing solutions to painful burns of the past.

Welcome back, readers. My name is DT- 3000 and I will be your guide this summer to the achievements of science in the museum of the future! Here, researchers from Brazil bring innovation from the depths of the oceans to treat the pain from intense first- and second-degree burns.

Dr. Edmar Maciel and Dr. José Frota from the Institute Burns Unit (IJF) in northeast Brazil, the lead researchers of the project, are experimenting with a new treatment for severe burns using the skin of tilapia fish, an unorthodox procedure they say can ease the pain of victims and cut medical costs.

"We discovered the tilapia fish skin performs significantly better [than conventional bandages] in the healing process by soothing and curing severe wounds caused by burns,” Maciel said.

Car mechanic Antonio Janio used the treatment after getting a burn on his arm.

"Use the tilapia skin. It's excellent," Janio told Reuters in March. "It takes the pain away. You do not need to take medicine. In my case, I did not need it, thank God."

With this groundbreaking therapy, researchers said the fish skin reduces anticipated healing times by one to two days and causes much less pain than traditional treatments.

“We got a great surprise when we saw that the amount of collagen proteins, types 1 and 3, which are very important for scarring, exist in large quantities in tilapia skin, even more than in human skin and other skins,” Maciel told Stat News in March.


And this is why I need skin!

Kenneth Diller, biomedical engineering professor at UT-Austin and a global expert on heat transfer, said this is less about the fish skin’s effects on the actual burn and more about the cooling effect it may have on the underlying sensory and nervous system.

Diller said human skin is quite an efficient cooling system, so the fish scales would not be able to help with the actual treatment of the burns in that way. The sensors on our skins are very sensitive after first- and second-degree burns, however, so the fish scales with their oily composition and smooth insides may be more gentle to the touch when applied compared to typical burn creams and gels.

I wish I were able to feel anything at all, but with my metal exterior, even fires can’t warm my cold, dead central processor — beep boop. But I have painted it bronze for that lovely sun-kissed summer tan sensation!

Maria Ines Candido da Silva, 36, worked as a waitress at a restaurant in Russas, Brazil, when an explosion from a gas canister at the restaurant she was working at caused severe burns to her arms, neck and some of her face.

“When they put the creams into my wounds, it was like I was being tortured, and the touch of the water to shower it off caused so much pain,” Silva told PBS Newshour. “At first the fish skin felt really cold, but within minutes of it being laid on I didn’t feel any more pain and it felt cool and comforting.”

Frota, from the Institute Burns Unit, said that in addition to the clinical trials being done with the tilapia skin, the researchers are experimenting with other animal skins, looking at the properties and compositions of pig and frog skin. If clinical trials show continued success, Frota said, doctors hope a company will process the skins on an industrial scale to sell to the Brazilian public health system.

I hope you were hooked by this fascinating journey to the fish kingdom! You never know what you’ll find in the depths of the ocean, besides blissful, all-encompassing silence. Next time, I try to swim.