New research centre aims to minimise scarring

The University of Birmingham is to play a crucial role in the UK’s first ever specialist research centre aimed at minimising the impact of scarring among Armed Forces personnel and civilians wounded in terrorist and other attacks.

The University of Birmingham reports the Scar Free Foundation Centre for Conflict Wound Research will be based at Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital, and will lead a national programme of clinical, psychological and scientific research. The first military and civilian wound research centre of its kind in the world, the centre builds on the UK’s leading role in wound healing research and marks a vital first step in The Scar Free Foundation’s goal to achieve scar free healing within a generation.

A three year initiative, it is being funded in part by a £3m LIBOR grant, announced by Philip Hammond. An additional £1.6m for the centre will be funded by the University of Birmingham, University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, the University of the West of England, and the JP Moulton Charitable Foundation.

The new centre will bring together uniformed and civilian scientists and clinicians to spearhead the development of new treatments, from the point of injury through to rehabilitation.

National charity The Scar Free Foundation will direct the centre’s research and will be partnered by the CASEVAC Club, made up of wounded veterans from recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine.

Professor David Adams, Pro-Vice Chancellor and Head of the College of Medical and Dental Sciences at the University of Birmingham, said “This centre will build upon the world leading research carried out by Birmingham Health Partners, which is focused on understanding the body’s response to major injury and how this can be modified to improve outcomes for patients. A focus on reducing the chances of patients developing life-altering scars and of treating patients with existing scars will have clear benefits to our veterans and serving military personnel, as well as to the general public. This is a great area of unmet need, identified as a priority by patients and veterans.”

Brendan Eley, Chief Executive of The Scar Free Foundation, said “Today marks a major milestone in our goal of scar free healing. Lifelong scarring causes significant problems for wounded military personnel and civilian survivors of terrorist attacks. We are delighted that the Chancellor has acknowledged the scale of the problem with such an important investment in research. This will change lives. The Scar Free Foundation Centre for Conflict Wound Research will have clear benefit to military personnel as well as the general public, and is of urgent relevance within the context of civilian terrorist and acid attacks. Today the UK takes an emphatic step towards a scar free world.”

The centre will investigate how the body heals and protects itself following the types of trauma that are likely in future conflicts and terrorist attacks, including chemical, burn, and blast injury. By understanding the biological processes of scarring this research will, over time, deliver new treatments.

It will initially run two flagship research projects.

The first project will develop and undertake the first-in-man clinical trial of a new conflict-ready and transportable dressing which helps the skin heal with reduced scarring, led by the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Inflammation and Ageing and College of Engineering and Physical Sciences.

The second project, led by the Centre for Appearance Research with the involvement of injured Iraq and Afghanistan veterans recruited from the CASEVAC Club, will pilot tailored psychosocial treatments to help seriously injured Armed Forces personnel cope with life with an altered, scarred appearance.

The Scar Free Foundation Centre for Conflict Wound Research will contribute significantly to the current, limited research into scarring. Advances in military trauma care made during operations in Iraq and Afghanistan will be sustained and built on for future conflicts and translated into improved treatment for victims of terrorist atrocities, at home and overseas.

As British military medical personnel are regularly called upon to respond to international humanitarian crises, the centre will also contribute to better humanitarian medical aid.

Rt Hon Jacqui Smith, Chair of University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, said “We are honoured to host The Scar Free Foundation Centre for Conflict Wound Research at Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham and provide matched funding support for the Centre. We are the home of the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine and the sole provider of medical services to military personnel evacuated from overseas via the Military Aero Medical Evacuation service. This unique environment, of embedded military and civilian care with defence personnel fully integrated with NHS staff to treat both military and civilian patients, means we are the ideal place to set up the Centre.”

Professor Diana Harcourt, Director of the Centre for Appearance Research, University of the West of England, Bristol, said “We are excited to partner with The Scar Free Foundation on the psychological programme for veterans with injuries resulting in disfigurement. To date, considerable resources have been invested in the physical rehabilitation of service veterans. In comparison, our understanding of ways of effectively facilitating their psychological and social rehabilitation following discharge from the Armed Forces, particularly for those who have sustained appearance-altering injuries, remains in its infancy.”

David Wiseman, Co-Founder of the CASEVAC Club, said “We look forward to partnering with The Scar Free Foundation to recruit veterans from operations in Afghanistan and Iraq to the psychological programme. One of the principal aims of the CASEVAC Club is to use our injuries and experiences to help advance medical science and in turn, reduce the suffering of those in the future who experience traumatic injury. We were inspired to form the club after meeting members of the Guinea Pig Club and hope to emulate their contribution to the field of medicine. This partnership with The Scar Free Foundation will be an important step towards this goal.”

Surgeon Captain Professor Rory Rickard, Defence Professor of Military Surgery, said “I welcome the Chancellor’s announcement of funding of The Scar Free Foundation Centre for Conflict Wound Research. The Centre will be a valuable addition to the field of world-leading military trauma research taking place in the UK. The Centre’s mission has clear synergies with Defence’s strategy for Far Forward Regenerative Medicine, particularly around the early management of complex traumatic wounds.”

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