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World's first research programme to identify scarring gene launched

Professor Paul Martin in the lab

Paul Martin, Professor of Cell Biology Ibolya Feher

Dr Beck Richardson with zebrafish

Dr Beck Richardson with zebrafish Ibolya Feher

26 November 2020

A world-leading £1.5 million research programme that aims to achieve scar free healing within a generation has been launched today [26 November] by The Scar Free Foundation, the only medical research charity which focuses solely on scarring. The five-year research study led by the University of Bristol will identify the gene(s) that causes scarring and inform future treatments.

Scarring affects over 20 million people in the UK*and The Scar Free Foundation Programme of Wound Healing Research at the University of Bristol will be the first study of its kind in the world - combining large scale population health data with model organism studies to analyse the role that genes play in wound repair and scar formation. 

Led by Paul Martin, Professor of Cell Biology, Nic Timpson, Professor of Genetic Epidemiology, and Dr Beck Richardson, Lecturer in Biomedical Sciences at the University of Bristol; the research team will identify genetic differences and investigate the genetic make-up of scarring by drawing on DNA data from large groups of people including: people with BCG vaccination scarring, children with cleft lip surgery, women with Caesarean section scarring and patients with internal lung scarring. This data will be combined with scientific studies focusing on the translucent zebrafish, using live imaging and genetic analysis to model wound healing and scar formation.

Professor Paul Martin said: "The Scar Free Foundation’s investment with the University of Bristol gives us a unique opportunity to undertake world class research into the genetics of scarring.  The programme will enable us to marry up the fantastic population health cohort approaches that Bristol does so well, with our own wet lab experimental and cell biology studies in order to break new ground in scarring research."

Dr Beck Richardson added: "Being a part of this exciting project will allow us to study how certain genes influence wound repair and the severity of subsequent scarring. Live imaging studies in translucent zebrafish will allow us to see how changes to these genes affects certain cells involved in scarring and gives us an experimental window through which to watch scars being formed and to identify ways to stop this."

Brendan Eley, Chief Executive of the Scar Free Foundation, explained: "We're delighted to be able to launch such a ground-breaking programme with the University of Bristol.  This life changing research will help us identify which factors cause us all to scar differently, and develop innovative treatments to improve patients' lives. Scarring can cause long term emotional and physical problems including pain, itching and loss of movement, requiring the need for frequent operations, skin grafts, cream application multiple times a day and daily physiotherapy.  We want to find ways of making life easier in the future for the millions of people living with scarring in the UK.

"Like many charities, Covid-19 has impacted our research programmes over the last six months, with some studies having to be put on hold as clinicians and scientists returned to the front line.  Although we need to increase our current funding to meet ongoing research needs, we’re lucky to have low overheads and a highly efficient team with a very clear aim –to achieve scar free healing within a generation."

Further information

*Censuswide poll of 1,000 UK respondents (16+), September 2019. ONS UK population figure for 16+ = 53,534,872. 53,534,872 x 38% = 20.3 million people in the UK have a scar

About The Scar Free Foundation
The Scar Free Foundation is a medical research charity, chaired by Professor Sir Bruce Keogh (former National Medical Director of NHS England), whose mission is to achieve scar free healing within a generation and transform the lives of those affected by scarring. Founded in 1999, The Scar Free Foundation has overseen a £50 million programme of life changing medical research into wound healing and reconstructive surgery.  We work with leading clinicians and researchers from world-class institutions across the UK towards achieving our ultimate aim: scar free healing within a generation.  Behind every scar is a story and we put the people living with scarring at the heart of everything that we do.

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