SINGAPORE - While discarded fish skin may seem unappealing to many, one scientist here is fishing for ways to unlock its potential for wound healing and bone regeneration.
Fish skin is a rich source of collagen - a natural material that is abundant in the skin - which promotes the regeneration of skin, bone and cartilage.
"In Brazil, the skin of tilapia fish has been used on burn victims. They wash it, sterilise it and wrap it around the wound area. The result is that the skin grows back without much observable scarring," said Professor Teoh Swee Hin, who recently retired from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and has been looking into the potential of fish skin in medical use for the past three to four years.
Scientists believe that there are important ingredients in marine collagen found in fish skin, said Prof Teoh, 67, who was the president's chair in Chemical and Biomedical Engineering at NTU until he retired in February this year.
In 2017, Brazilian researchers began experimenting with the use of this unorthodox method to ease the pain of burn victims while aiming to cut medical costs.
In the past, frozen pig skin and human tissue were used to allow the transfer of collagen - but the lack of these supplies in Brazil prompted researchers to look for alternative sources.
"Fish skin is a sustainable source of collagen, as discarded fish parts account for around 70 per cent to 85 per cent of the catch from fishing and aquaculture industries," he added.
When used in bone regeneration, collagen acts as a glue for bone cells to attach to it, proliferate and grow.
"This can help to shorten the recovery process after bone implant surgery," said Prof Teoh.
The healing time post-implant usually takes at least three months.
In a research study published last month in the journal Current Opinion In Biotechnology, Prof Teoh showed the viability of extracting collagen from tilapia skin - a fish that is readily available from local farms.
The collagen has also been successfully fabricated into the scaffolds needed for surgical implants, though more studies will be needed to determine the long-term ...