“Let food be your medicine” gets a slightly different take with this study: Researchers from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore have discovered a novel use for fish scales, which are commonly discarded in the cooking process. Their study, published in the journal Acta Biomaterialia, found that the collagen present in fish scales has the potential to be used in various biomedical applications, such as wound healing.
The team, led by NTU scientists Cleo Choong and Andrew Tan, revealed that fish scales contained collagen that promoted blood and lymphatic vessel formation in wounds, based on in vivo tests, that improved the potential for tissue repair and regeneration. For the study, they paired with a local Singaporean fish farm to get fish scales from sea bass, snakehead, and tilapia.
In addition, collagen can be used as a drug carrier to enhance wound healing further. There’s only one problem: Naturally occurring collagen can only be dissolved in acidic conditions, which damage the drugs. The researchers got around the problem by creating water-soluble collagen from fish scales. This allowed them to incorporate drugs into collagen and use it to create wound dressings that have far better healing potential. (Related: Take Dietary Collagen to Reduce and Prevent Wrinkles.)
The study is the latest in the team’s work with fish scale-derived collagen. An earlier study that appeared in the Journal of Materials Science: Materials in Medicine found that fish scales and bullfrog skin, when turned into collagen, resulted in increased production of endothelial cells for blood vessel formation – at least 2.5 times better than bovine collagen. “These sources of non-mammalian collagen can potentially be used as alternative resource resilient biomaterials for tissue engineering applications,” they concluded in their previous study.
As it turns out, the idea isn’t just novel. The findings have gained the interest of international collagen-based biomedical product manufacturing companies looking for non-mammalian sources, and for good reason: Fish-derived collagen carries a lower risk of disease transmission than those from pigs and cows. “[These also] are not subjected to any cultural or religious constraints,” the researchers wrote in their study.
While collagen has been used in a lot of biomedical applications, commercially available collagen-based products come from mammalian sources such as sheep, cows, and pigs, according to Choong. “Consequently, clinical application of these materials has been limited due to cultural and religious restrictions associated with these mammalian tissue-derived materials. In addition, more checks and processing have to be in place due to the risk of diseases that can be transmitted from mammals to humans,” he added.
The researchers are optimistic about the impact of their product. According to Tan, a professor at NTU School of Biological Sciences, collagen has already gained ground as a wound dressing material, thanks to its “favorable biological properties.” This allows it to provide relief for a number of injuries. “Collagen dressings come in all shapes and sizes – gels, pastes, powders and pads,” he adds. “It can potentially treat wounds of all dimensions.”
To top it all off, fish scales are ridiculously inexpensive. Based on the results of the study, around 200 mg of collagen could be extracted from 10 g of fish scales – which could be derived from just one or two fish. In Singapore, where the study was conducted, the cost to get collagen from fish scales was just over $4, which is far cheaper than other sources such as cowhide. The use of fish scales could also reduce food waste.