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JAGUARUBARA, CEARA, BRAZIL (CBSMiami) — Researchers in Brazil are experimenting with a new treatment for severe burns using the skin of tilapia fish, an unorthodox procedure they say can ease the pain of victims and cut medical costs.

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Frozen pig skin and human tissue have long been placed on burns to keep them moist and allow the transfer of collagen, a protein that promotes healing, but Brazil’s public hospitals lack human and pig skin supplies. Instead, gauze bandage, which needs regular changing – often painfully – is the norm.

Tilapia is abundant in Brazil’s rivers and fish farms, which are expanding rapidly as demand grows for the mildly flavoured freshwater fish.

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Scientists at the Federal University of Ceara in northern Brazil have found that tilapia skin has moisture, collagen and disease resistance at levels comparable to human skin, and can aid in healing.

The tilapia treatment can speed up healing by several days and reduces the need for pain medication, the Brazilian researchers say, adding that the treatment costs 75 percent less than the sulfadiazine cream typically used on Brazilian burn patients.

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The researchers hope the treatment will prove commercially viable and encourage businesses to process tilapia skin for medical use.