The new year is always a time to look forwards and wonder what the year will bring. The truth is that for all our planning, life always has a way of surprising us – or, at least, my life has! I knew that in 2015 I would continue to meet some amazing people who have become supporters of RAFT and that my team would continue to make me proud through their hard work, loyalty and drive to get research to patients. However, I never dreamed that last year I would go to New York three times, the last to win an international award or that we would launch the Life After Breast Cancer Fund.
So what is in store for 2016? As always, delivering research to patients is our main priority. We currently have 4 programmes of research:
- Wound healing
- RAFT’s Smart Matrix® is now in clinical trial in patients. In 2016, a second Smart Matrix® clinical trial is planned to test it without the use of skin grafts. If we can prove this works, it could revolutionise the way wounds are treated.
- Trying to improve the treatment of chronic wounds. In 2015, we began testing Smart Matrix® with a robust backing material to see if we could encourage chronic wounds to fully heal, mitigating the need for ongoing wound healing treatment. In 2016, with additional funding we will be in a position to finish preliminary testing of this new Smart Matrix® formulation that could be a game change for the millions suffering from Diabetes who regularly suffer from foot ulcers and other non healing wounds.
- Growing bone– we want to create an off-the-shelf bone graft alternative that will encourage bone to grow inside of the body. In 2016, we plan to have completed the studies assessing the survival and function of bone and blood vessel-forming cells on the scaffold. This will give an initial indication of how the material might behave in the body.
- Breast reconstruction– Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, affecting 50,000 per year in the UK alone, with a lifetime risk of 1 in 8. Treatment can involve surgery, with chemo and radiation therapy, with 40% patients undergoing mastectomy. Current guidelines recommend that women undergoing mastectomy should be offered reconstructive options, however 42% of women who have had a mastectomy won’t have a reconstruction because of the trauma involved. We want to change that statistic. Whether a woman has a breast reconstruction after mastectomy should be a choice and not driven by the limitations of current technology. At RAFT we have been looking at two types of reconstruction:
- Free tissue flap breast reconstruction. Working with the Mayo Clinic in the USA, we will continue trying to find ways to optimise the harvest of free flaps and investigating whether preconditioning can reduce the risk of the flaps failing to survive upon transfer (which then requires the patient to undergo another operation).
- Adipose Derived Stem Cells (ADSCs) to improve fat transfer reconstruction. We will continue working on methods to reduce the time it takes to harvest and purify ADSCs and on ways to transfer the cells on 3D biological scaffolds to increase their functionality upon transplant.
- Bionic limb– we have been working on improving the interface between an upper limb amputation and a prosthesis. In 2016 we will be working on the electrodes that will be implanted in the upper limb and control the prosthesis and testing them in the laboratory.
Also in 2016 we are starting a new programme into facial reconstruction using 3D printing. [There are approximately 60,000 craniofacial reconstruction surgeries carried out in the UK every year as a result of trauma, tumour removal and congenital anomalies. Typically metal implants, bone grafts and artificial prosthetics are utilised to assist the reconstruction. In collaboration with UCL we aim to develop 3D printing technology to generate custom-fit, personalised implants to greatly improve facial reconstruction surgeries.
To help support this work, we have launched two new Funds this year, which will have their official launches in 2016
- Life After Breast Cancer Fund lifeafterbreastcancerfund.org Supported by a committee of women from all walks of life, the Life After Breast Cancer Fund is aimed at raising sufficient money to take our research into breast reconstruction through clinical trial.
- The Ferrial Fund for Burns Research. At the age of two, Ferrial Syed found a box of matches that some visitors had left behind and, playing with the matches, set herself alight. Thanks to RAFT’s pioneering research into skin grafts at the time, Ferrial survived despite life threatening injuries. Today she is training to be a doctor so that she can help others. For 25 years, Ferrial and her family have been supporting RAFT and we wanted to honour this long time connection by naming a research fund after her.
We will also be hosting a series of fundraising events. Some are still in the planning stage but I can tell you about a fantastic event that we are organising on behalf of the London Fire Brigade and four other charities – all specialising in the rehabilitation of children and adults affected by fire-related injuries. This will be a Gala Dinner on 1stNovember 2016 at Mansion House, hosted by The Lord Mayor of London and with a Royal Guest of Honour. You can find more details on a dedicated website: lfb150galadinner.com
I could tell you a lot more but I will leave that for another time! Meanwhile, I want to wish you all a very Happy New Year on behalf of the RAFT team.