Researchers will use zebrafish to help identify genes that cause scarring

A £1.5 million research programme has been launched to identify the genes that cause scarring and inform future treatments for those living with scarring.

The five-year project, funded by The Scar Free Foundation and led by the University of Bristol, will include studies of translucent zebrafish.

Live imaging and genetic analysis of the fish, which can regrow tissue and repair wounds rapidly, will be used to model healing and scar formation.

Researchers will also identify genetic differences and investigate the genetic make-up of scarring by analysing DNA data from large groups of people.

These include those with BCG vaccination scarring, children with cleft lip surgery, women with Caesarean section scarring and patients with internal lung scarring.

Paul Martin, professor of cell biology at the University of Bristol, said the project would provide 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,” Prof Martin said.

It is estimated that 20 million people in the UK have a scar.

Researchers say the findings of the research could be transformative for people both in the UK and across the world.

Dr Beck Richardson, of the University of Bristol, 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.

Dr Beck Richardson
Dr Beck Richardson described the project as ‘exciting’ (Barley Communications/Ibolya Feher/Picture-Aid/PA)

“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.”

The Scar Free Foundation is a medical research charity, chaired by Professor Sir Bruce Keogh.

Its mission is to achieve scar-free healing within a generation and improve the lives of those affected by scarring.

Brendan Eley, chief executive of the charity, described the research programme as “ground-breaking”.

“This life changing research will help us identify which factors cause us all to scar differently, and develop innovative treatments to improve patients’ lives,” Mr Eley said.

“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.”

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