Scientists believe that collagen extracted from fish (namely tilapia) can be applied as a “wound dressing”, to help clean the wound and accelerate healing.

Tilapia. Image via Wiki Commons.

Collagen is the main structural protein of the various connective tissues in animals. As the main component of connective tissue, it is the most abundant protein in mammals, but can also be found in fish. Collagen from cows and pigs has been used previously, but there are a couple of drawbacks to cow collagen, such as the potential for infectious disease transmission and religious issues in some areas of the world.

Researchers started to focus on other potential sources of collagen, and they concluded that the tilapia would be a great choice. Tilapia is the common name for nearly a hundred species of cichlid fish from the tilapiine cichlid tribe. Tilapia are mainly freshwater fish inhabiting shallow streams, ponds, rivers and lakes and less commonly found living in brackish water. In recent years, tilapia have been grown intensively throughout the world, and the aquacultured tilapia makes a great substitute.

The team studied the issue and found that tilapia collagen doesn’t provoke a negative immune response. Then, they studied its healing properties and noted that tilapia collagen encouraged the growth of fibroblasts and increased the expression of genes involved in wound healing. All in all, the results were encouraging enough to move on to animal testing.

Image credits: Zhou et al.

For this, they inflicted 1.8-cm-wide wounds on the backs of rats. They then treated the wounds with nothing (as a control), an algae based wound dressing (Kaltostat), and tilapia collagen. As seen below, the tilapia collagen was the most effective at treating the wounds – after two weeks, they were basically gone.

Researchers hope to refine their research and ultimately release it as a product, but they have a tough competition ahead of them. For example, the company Eqalix uses soybean protein to promote healing, and they have a couple of years of headstart research; they are currently trying to obtain FDA approval.

Journal Reference: Tian Zhou, Nanping Wang, Yang Xue, Tingting Ding, Xin Liu, Xiumei Mo, and Jiao Sun. “Development of Biomimetic Tilapia Collagen Nanofibers for Skin Regeneration through Inducing Keratinocytes Differentiation and Collagen Synthesis of Dermal Fibroblasts.” ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces 7 (5), pp 3253–3262. 19-Jan-2015. DOI: 10.1021/am507990m