Pregnant paws: Fish skins a success at healing wounds

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Veterinarians used sterilized tilapia skin to help heal burned bear paws.
Veterinarians used sterilized tilapia skin to help heal burned bear paws.

A technique being explored as a treatment for human wounds helped save the lives of three bears in California this winter.

Two adult bears were found with their paws badly burned after the Thomas Fire ripped through Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

Veterinarians helping the state's Department of Fish and Wildlife turned to nature to treat the bears. After swabbing on a homemade burn salve, they wrapped each paw in sterilized tilapia skin, which is rich in collagen and can help speed healing.

Doctors also conducted an ultrasound and discovered one of the bears was pregnant. They sped up treatment so she could give birth in the wild.

Officials said the tilapia technique has been used successfully in Brazil on humans, but it is not approved for use in the U.S. They were unaware of other cases in which it had been used on animal patients.

Scientists, however, are exploring using intact sh skin in a manner similar to topical growth factors or other bioengineered skin substitutes.

“Natural fish skin is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, which relieve pain, reduce inflammation and provide a barrier for bacterial ingrowth,” Gunnar Johannsson, M.D., head of Medical Affairs for Kerecis, told McKnight's last year.

Jamie Peyton, DVM, chief of integrative medicine for UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, also used the fish-wrapping method on a burned mountain lion.