G. ​Fertram Sigurjonsson and team

​​Advancing wound-healing using fish skin​

Technical field
Medical technology
An ingenious acellular fish-skin graft that harnesses the unique properties of cod skin to accelerate wound healing has been invented by G. Fertram Sigurjonsson and his team. Ageing populations, the prevalence of diabetes and the occurrence of traumatic injuries may lead to chronic or complex wounds, and often, amputation is the only option for patients. Biologic tissue products, such as the fish-skin graft, could help mitigate the risk of amputation.

Fertram Sigurjonsson, who has degrees in chemistry and engineering, is growing the field of wound care by using fish skin to produce a skin substitute . This scaffolding material promotes the body's natural healing and triggers the growth of new blood vessels. The Kerecis fish-skin graft boasts several advantages over traditional pig or cow skin substitutes, which need intensive chemical processing for safety. These advantages include enhanced biocompatibility, lower immunological risks and greater cost-effectiveness.  

Sigurjonsson explains that his invention requires skin from fish living in very cold temperatures. “Because the fish that live at temperatures more similar to the temperature of the human body might have viruses that can transfer to humans,” he says. “Any viruses potentially found in the cold-water fish would be inactive when heated to human body temperature.” 

To avoid the body recognising and rejecting foreign DNA, fish cells are removed from the skin during production without changing the structure of composition of the fish skin, preserving the fish skins three-dimensionality, mechanical properties and chemical complexity, as well as fats and omega acids which contribute to healing . This also helpscreate an optimal environment for human cell growth and tissue regeneration. Compared to treated mammalian-based alternatives, the Kerecis fish-skin graft has the potential to improve healing success rates, reduce pain, and shorten recovery times for patients. 

Turning waste into a life-changing solution 

Sigurjonsson's inspiration for this groundbreaking invention stems from his early experiences having a summer job on a fishing boat in North-West Iceland. Years later, while employed at medical device companies, he recognised the potential of applying his knowledge of fish skin to the field of wound care. In 2007, the entrepreneur took the first steps to realising his idea of using Omega3 rich fish skin to treat wounds and tissue damage, transforming something generally seen as waste into a life-changing medical solution. In 2023, a Danish company signed an agreement to acquire Kerecis for up to EUR 1.2 billion, making it Iceland’s first unicorn. 

The inventor advises businesses to keep intellectual property in mind when trying to grow, “An inventor, engineer, or chemist can submit a basic patent application and then claim that their product is patent pending, which has enormous weight when applying for grants or seeking venture capital. Then they can work with a patent firm to structure the application and make it more thorough during the pending process. Patents are the best thing that small startups have to protect themselves and create assets to attract investors.” 

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