FWF Team Focus - Helen DeJong

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Helen De Jong

Helen de Jong is a senior occupational therapist who first joined the burns team in 1996.

Helen is currently conducting a research project entitled the Mechanobiology of Scarring and was recently awarded the Barry Marshall Travel Award from the Spinnaker Health Research Foundation to present her research at the Scarcon ETRS 2018 conference in Amsterdam. This conference is an international, multidisciplinary meeting, focusing on the latest research and clinical treatments in wound healing, scarring and fibrosis.

The mechanobiology of scarring looks at how physical (mechanical) forces influence the way the skin heals following a burn. The cells involved in wound healing and scar formation are very sensitive to the physical properties of their surrounding microenvironment. When the microenvironment is too stiff these cells are over stimulated and produce too much collagen, creating stiff, thick scars. Physical therapies currently used to minimise scar formation, including movement, massage, stretch and compression garments, are thought to manipulate the stiffness of the microenvironment reducing the degree of scar tissue formed. The challenge is to understand how they create this change and then provide the right combination and dose of therapies to optimise the result for every individual patient.

For the first time, new imaging technology called shear-wave elastography is being used to measure the stiffness and physical properties of the skin, scar and surrounding tissues. Initial findings suggest that the non-injured tissues below the scar also undergo changes in their physical properties. This new information provides clues as to how physical forces within the body influence scar formation and why our physical therapies are so important following a burn. Her research is continuing and we look forward to providing updates as they develop.

We thank Siemens Heathineers Australia for the generous loan of this technology and Spinnaker Health Research Foundation for the Barry Marshall Travel Grant.

Photo: Helen DeJong


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