It’s not just ladders that firefighters are scaling these days.
When it comes to fighting wildfires, prevention is always the first weapon, and water the second. But when it comes to healing burns caused by those wildfires, emergency services are turning to a “new” technology: fish.
A 5-month-old mountain lion, injured in one of Southern California’s worst wild fires, is the first to undergo this innovative treatment in the United States, which has been borrowed from Brazil.
“He was already starting to heal, but his paw pads were problematic,” said Deana Clifford, a senior wildlife veterinarian with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and an assistant clinical professor at the University of California Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.
According to ABC, the mountain lion was covered in second and third degree burns on its paws. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife rescued the cat, and thanks to Clifford and UC, those paws have been grafted with tilapia skin.
It took three hours for veterinarians to prepare the cat for surgery, but when it awoke, its paws were properly bandaged. The fish skin protects the wound and promotes a quicker healing process. It helps dilute pain by covering nerve endings.
The treatment originated in Brazil, where the fish skin is much cheaper to procure than preserved human skin in a skin bank.
“It’s like having little shoes on — fish shoes,” said Jamie Peyton, chief of the Integrative Medicine Service at the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital.
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With more research, the possibilities for these “fish shoes” are only limited by funding.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Peyton said. “This treatment can be used not just in California, but around the country, to help others learn to use this.”
Even leading burn center practitioners agree that fish skin provides a benefit not found in other grafts, but it isn’t appropriate for every situation.
“It’s not a replacement for skin graft, but it could be a good tool,” Dr. Peter Grossman, medical director of the Grossman Burn Centers, told ABC. “I still think it is going to take some time before it is socially accepted even in animals. [But] sometimes simpler can be better, so we have to keep an open mind.”
Grossman maintains that the tilapia skin may work for partial thickness wounds, where the fish skin has tissue to graft onto. But in more severe burn cases, the same treatment would likely provide little benefit.
Still, this fishy business is helping at least one cat’s paws feel better. Learn more in the video below
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Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.