Dr Andrew Stevenson
When asked how long Andrew has been with us? “I’ve been with FWF for 8 years(!!) - first as a research assistant, then as a PhD student, and now as a postdoctoral scientist” – wow!
Andrew’s thesis was titled “Investigating the role of epigenetics in scar maintenance”, and involved examining burn scar cells at a molecular level to determine why scar tissue is maintained for life, and does not revert back to normal tissue. Epigenetics is the study of alterations to DNA that regulate changes the way cells behave, but does not involve changes to the DNA sequence itself. An analogy for this would be to imagine the DNA as the words and letters in a book, and epigenetics the punctuation – changing the punctuation can have a large effect, even if the words are the same! To identify changes in the epigenetics of burn scars, skin biopsies were taken from forearms of burn patients, and cells grown and epigenetics and gene expression analysed using gene array technology. 2 key genes were identified, and alteration of these genes in the lab was found to change the scar cells back into a more ‘normal’ appearance.
He is now working on new drug treatments for scars, with our collaborators at the Australian pharmaceutical company Pharmaxis. These drugs work by inhibiting a naturally occurring enzyme called lysyl oxidadase (LOX), which causes collagen, the main protein in skin and the major component of scar tissue, to cross-link and form tighter, less flexible skin. Inhibition of this enzyme during or after scar formation using these LOX inhibitor will hopefully give beneficial outcomes for scar appearance and function. In the future, I’d like to continue on with my research on scarring and eventually complete tissue regeneration by doing more of what I did in my thesis – examining the relationships between DNA, gene expression and protein production, integrating all of these to provide a clearer picture of what is actually going on and using this information to design interventions to guide the regeneration of normal, healthy tissue.
We are proud of Andrew’s research career progress – it is us as to why we raise funds - to help early career researchers like Andrew, so our talent remains in WA.