How Fish May Heal People in the Future

tilapiacollagenWhile the use of collagen for the face has been widespread for many years, treating wounds with collagen has been only theoretical until recently. Researchers in China, however, were recently able to use collagen from the skin of tilapia to speed up wound recovery in mice and rats.

To begin the experiment, researchers at Shanghai Jiaotong University School of Medicine chemically extracted collagen from tilapia and created nanofibers with the high tensile strength, temperature resistance, and hydrophilic properties necessary to be successful in wound treatment. Tilapia was chosen as the source because they are abundant and the infections that affect fish are generally very different from those that affect humans.

The next step for researchers was to determine if the tilapia collagen produced an immune response in the rats. When the rats’ bodies did not reject the tilapia collagen, researchers analyzed the collagen for necessary wound-healing genes.

“Biochemically, there is not much difference between the types of collagen used, since, at the wound site, there is nothing to penetrate,” says Dr. Piotr Pakuļa, Founder, Colyfine. “Further, since the dissolved fish skin is somehow not filtered for fractionation types of collagen (a separation process), different types of collagen can be used in healing wounds. However, medically speaking, only a drug can be applied to open wounds, regardless of the substance. Therefore, the application of cosmetic products in such cases is not advisable. As the wound heals, cosmetic applications are allowed. Simply put, collagen is skin in liquid form, and promotes the best healing. This is why collagen bandages are sold as medical devices.”

With the collagen appropriately tested for experimental use, researchers created small wounds (1.8cm wide) on the backs of rats. One-third of the rats were left untreated, one-third of the rats were treated with an algae-based wound dressing, and the final group was treated with the tilapia collagen. Of the three groups, the rats treated with tilapia showed the most effective healing rate.

While the experiment appears to have been a success, it will be a long time before collagen for the face pulls double duty as a beauty cream and a first aid supply. Researchers must first test the collagen on larger animals before beginning human trials. They are also attempting to modify the collagen to give it anti-microbial properties.

Nevertheless, the implications of this study are enormous. With further research, scientists may be able to use tilapia collagen to reduce the appearance of scars or decrease instances where stitches might have been needed. The improvements that may arise from this development may alter the medical industry for the better.