Tilapia Diplomacy: Science’s Role in International Dialogue

Image: Flickr/Eelke

By Lake Dodson

In the ever-changing world of international politics, it is easy to be caught up in the near-endless cycles of negotiations, alliances, and mass trade. Equally, it is common to be so blinded by the failures of national leaders and organizations that their successes in other areas get overshadowed.

While turmoil muddled the late 2010s and early 2020s, distrust, and ever-present threats, the breakthroughs and promising advancements during these few years merit an equal amount of, if not more, recognition and celebration. Of all the unrecognized discoveries made among multiple nations this year, none have shown more promise to promote the health of patients and their countries than the breakthroughs made using the skins of tilapia fish to heal burn victims.

The Science Behind It

Skin burns are medically ranked in terms of severity on three levels: one being minor damage to surface tissue, two surpassing the first layer of skin, and three being life-threatening injuries under the dermis and into the muscles. The skin reacts differently based on the cause of the burn, the environment, and the immediate treatment. For some, the skin may harden into a waxy clot, while for others, the skin may peel off and expose sensitive layers.

The epidermis is the outermost layer of skin, while the dermis is the next layer down. Both have different functions for the body, but any burn extending into the dermis may cause permanent damage to every bodily system. At best, severe burns pain and disfigure a portion of someone’s body forever. At worst, one may lose limbs or die from the harshness of the burns.

No matter the severity of the burn, the affected skin area loses collagen, the most abundant protein in the human body, which is why burned skin is so brittle and easily injured. Collagen for medical uses is usually sourced artificially or from land-based animals like cows or pigs.

However, Brazilian scientists discovered a remedy that can not only source collagen from a more reliable source but heal a burn victim faster than ever—helping to heal patients and Brazilian political relations through their medical innovations.

Where It Came From

Experimental treatments for severe burns using tilapia skins in Fortaleza, Brazil, proved surprisingly successful against second and third-degree burns. Dr. Edmar Maciel, a plastic surgeon and burn specialist, remarked, “We got a great surprise when we saw that the number of collagen proteins, types 1 and 3, which are very important for scarring, exist in large quantities in tilapia skin, even more than in human skin and other skins.”

In Brazil, medical professionals have used the skins on human patients already. Josué Bezzera, an electrical supervisor, and Antônio dos Santos, a fisherman, both suffered severe third-degree burns across their entire right arms from an electrical burst and a gasoline explosion, respectively. While healing, doctors observed how these patients needed fewer anesthetics, reported lower pain, and overall recovered faster using tilapia skins compared to silver sulfadiazine.

Further studies at the José Frota Medical Research Institute indicated the victims of these burns began to heal faster and more comprehensively as well. The final results were nothing less than extraordinary. Patients using tilapia skins healed up to a week faster than those that used artificial or land animal-based collagen. 

Now, prominent laboratories and universities across California have been using the research and data collected by these Brazilian researchers to aid those hurt in the devastating wildfires impacting the state with greater severity every year.

International Studies and Diplomatic Relevance

After third-degree chemical burns to the face, 80 percent healed after only two weeks.

These were the astounding results of a 2018 experimental treatment between scientists from America and the United Kingdom in Yorkshire, England. A neglected and starving pony living on a farm in the countryside was sprayed in the face and mouth with poisonous and corrosive chemicals in a malicious act of animal abuse. If the pony survived, it would need immediate treatment to prevent skin and tissue from peeling off and killing the poor animal.

English scientists had researched treatment options for the equine. They found work done by Dr. Jamie Peyton, A UC Davis Wildlife Disaster Expert and Veterinarian, using tilapia skins to heal the burned paws of two injured mountain lions. Dr. Peyton accepted the scientists’ request for her to join the experimental treatment and began work wrapping the pony’s face in tilapia. The pony, nicknamed “Cinders,” fully recovered from the attack later that year and lives with a new, loving owner still in Yorkshire County.

Similar experiments were undertaken that same year, noticeably all in California or surrounding areas. This is because of California’s record-setting wildfires in 2018, destroying more land and killing more people than at any other point in state history. The Valley Oak Veterinary Center treated over ten affected animals of the fire, including dogs, bears, and other woodland creatures, and nursed them all to full recovery. 

Diplomatic Relevance

Science can achieve many significant breakthroughs through scientific cooperation, many of which would not necessarily pertain to the studied subject. Science has always played a significant role in international diplomacy by providing a common ground for nations to collaborate and solve global challenges. Science-based diplomacy has helped address global issues such as climate change, disease outbreaks, environmental degradation, and other such pressing issues. Through international scientific cooperation, nations have shared knowledge and expertise, built trust and understanding, and established lasting partnerships. 

Moreover, science has also served as a tool for soft power, promoting a country’s influence and reputation on the world stage. Overall, science has contributed to advancing international diplomacy by fostering collaboration, facilitating communication, and promoting global progress. The revolutionary breakthrough of using tilapia skins to heal burn victims is yet another example of science’s crucial role in international diplomacy and a remarkable triumph of the human spirit and perseverance.

Lake Dodson is a regular writer for the Realist Review. He studies Political Science and Global Security at the University of Mississippi.






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