Basic Science Research - current projects

Understanding scar formation and maintenance

The Genetics of Scarring

This project investigates why some people develop excessive scarring after burn injury.  We already know that ‘environmental’ factors (such as the severity of the burn injury or first aid treatment) influence scarring after burn injury, but genetic factors are also important and likely contribute significantly to the observed variability in scar outcomes. We are currently collecting DNA samples from burn patients together with substantial clinical and scar assessment data. This will be used for genome wide association screening for regions important in determining scar outcome. Ultimately this project may lead to better grouping of patients for targeted treatment and novel targets for therapeutic intervention.  Overseas burns units in the UK and Poland will also be involved in this study.

The epigenetics of scar maintenance

Scars not only remain for life but also grow with the body of the person such that a child with a small TBSA injury (for example 2%) will still have a 2% TBSA scar when an adult. This is at least in part likely to be due to maintenance of the scar phenotype by cells within the scar. We are investigating epigenetic and other changes in scar cells compared to those in normal skin to better understand what drives the scar cells to maintain their phenotype and production of scar for the lifetime of the individual.

The systemic effects of Burn Injury

Restoring nerves and reducing pain

The extent of nerve damage after skin trauma and its subsequent healing plays an important role not only in wound repair but also in the sensation of the scar. This study investigates the extent of damage to cutaneous nerves after a non-severe burn injury and the associated anatomical and functional changes.  This focuses the extent of damage to neurons in the dorsal root ganglion and changes in the spinal cord that may underlie the poor feeling and increased pain after a burn. These results will help in the future treatments for improved scar outcome and sensory function. 

The role of the immune response in long-term patient outcomes

There is substantial and increasing evidence that there are long-term consequences for patients with a burn injury far beyond the visible scar. This includes systemic changes to a number of different tissues and increased risk of a number of secondary pathologies including cancer. We are investigating the role of the immune response to burn injury and the impact of the injury on the immune system in the long-term to understand how the injury/immune system interaction is important in the long-term and in the incidence of secondary pathologies long after the burn itself has been resolved.

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