Atlantic cod skins are proving a life saver

Icelandic firm produces sterile grafts to treat severe burns, other tissue damage in people and animals

Kerecis Omega3, produced by an Icelandic firm from the skins of wild Atlantic cod, aids in treating severe burns and other tissue damage. Photo courtesy of Kerecis
Kerecis Omega3, produced by an Icelandic firm from the skins of wild Atlantic cod, aids in treating severe burns and other tissue damage. Photo courtesy of Kerecis

Descaled skins of Atlantic cod processed by an Icelandic firm are proving a life saver for people and animals alike in treatment of severe burns and other tissue damage issues, including diabetic wounds.

The product itself, Kerecis Omega3, is intact fish skin from wild Atlantic cod, caught in sustainable fisheries in Icelandic waters and processed using hydroelectric power.

A recent dramatic example of successful use of Kerecis Omega3 came in East Lansing, Michigan, where surgeons at Michigan State University Veterinary Medical Center used the skins to save the life of Stella, a one-year-old Rottweiler, who suffered second and third degree burns in a house fire while her owners were away. Stella arrived at the veterinary hospital with burns across her head, nose, ears, hind end and sides. She also had severe smoke inhalation and respiratory problems, developed ulcers and scarred both eyes, veterinary surgeons said.

She was given intravenous fluids and pure oxygen to help her breath and once stabilized the MSU soft tissue surgical team went to work, while ophthalmologists treated her eye injuries. Because of the trauma to her lungs, Stella was not a good candidate for anesthesia, so the surgeons opted to use a less traditional method — descaled cod fish skins donated by Kerecis, for use in burn and other medical procedures for people and animals.

The tissue and high omega-3 fatty acid content of the cod skin gives these processed fish skins anti-inflammation and antibiotic properties critical to healing and tissue regeneration.

Another plus is they don’t require heavy sedation.

“We were able to place them on her with minimal sedation, which not only allowed us to heal her without additional stress to her lungs, but improved the way her burns healed,” said Brea Sandness, a veterinarian and surgical resident at the veterinary hospital.

Those descaled cod skins have proven to stimulate production of cells and become functional, living tissue, Sandness said.

Thanks to the critical care provided at the university hospital, Stella’s burns are healing well, but veterinarians said she still has respiratory issues that will likely require close monitoring and care for the rest of her life. Sandness called Stella “a living example that the fire within her burned stronger than the fire that injured her.”

Kerecis itself began as a research project in 2009 at Isafjordur, Iceland, 30 miles south of the Arctic Circle. The technology employed there was invented by company founder and CEO Fertram Sigurjonsson. Commercial operations at Kerecis began in 2013.

In 2019 the company acquired the Swiss life-science company Phytoceuticals AG, which has since changed its name to Kerecis AG.

Today the company has offices in Reykjavik, Zurich and Arlington, Virginia, and product manufacturing remains at Isafjordur, Iceland.  In the U.S Kerecis has a sales force of 50 people selling its flagship product, Kerecis Omega3 Wound, directly to hospitals and health care facilities.

The cod skins are packaged in sterile pouches, have a shelf life of five years, can be stored at room temperature, and can be applied without sedation. For use, medical personal simply remove the graft material from sterile packaging, trim to size, soak in warm saline solution and apply to the skin area to be treated.

The cod skins used to save the life of Stella, the Rottweiler, were donated.

Earlier this year Kerecis shipped 500 units of Kerecis Omega3 Burn to help the victims of a volcano eruption at White Island in New Zealand. Erecis medical director Dr. Hilmar Kjartansson personally delivered the product and trained physicians in New Zealand in its use.

Kerecis is also currently talking with an Australian animal group about possibly sending some product for use in treating animals injured in numerous wildfires in Australia.

A spokesperson for the company said that in addition to human beings that Kerecis Omega3 Wound has been used to treat a variety of creatures, from dogs and horses to turkeys, turtles and even llamas.