The Scar Free Foundation launches world’s first research programme to identify scarring gene

A world-leading £1.5 million research programme that aims to achieve scar free healing within a generation has been launched today, 26th 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 said:

“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.”

Dr Sophie Dix, an Ambassador spokesperson for the Foundation, said 

“As a mother to a burns survivor, I am delighted to see significant funding being dedicated to research into scar prevention. We live in a world obsessed by perfection and body image, yet the cosmetic aspects, and the fact that my daughter will soon be a teenager, are not my main concern. Scars don’t grow the same way that healthy skin does – this makes walking and running painful and Delilah’s hands don’t function in the same way. She has had to endure countless operations to try to gain normal function. The work The Scar Free Foundation is funding is pioneering and has the potential to transform the lives of the many people affected by scarring – in the UK and worldwide.”

Brendan Eley, Chief Executive of the Scar Free Foundation, said:

“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.”