1 in 100 people in the UK have a significant facial difference. Our £2.5M Research into 3D bioprinting using human cells is set to change people’s lives.
A world-leading research programme to revolutionise surgeons’ ability to reconstruct nose and ear cartilage in patients affected by facial difference has been launched at Swansea University Medical School.
Funded by the Scar Free Foundation, the only medical research charity that focuses solely on scarring, and Health and Care Research Wales, the three-year programme will have a global impact, advancing not only 3D bioprinting of cartilage but also examining how facial scarring affects mental health by analysing data from the world’s largest cohort of people living with facial scarring.
Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, of the Scar Free Foundation, explains:
“Giving surgeons the ability in the future to reconstruct people’s faces using their own cells without the need for further scarring is revolutionary.”
The pioneering programme will develop 3D bioprinting using human cartilage specific stem/progenitor cells and nanocellulose (derived from plants) as a bioink for facial reconstruction. The project will include scientific studies to determine the ideal combination of cells to grow new cartilage which will lead to human clinical trials for facial reconstruction.
The research is being led by Professor Iain Whitaker, Chair of Plastic Surgery at the Medical School, who also heads up the biggest plastic surgery research group in the UK, is part of the team at the Welsh Centre for Burns and Plastic Surgery at Morriston Hospital and Surgical Specialty Lead for Health and Care Research Wales. He adds:
“Alongside the tissue engineering and 3D bioprinting research, we are critically analysing the patient pathways in skin cancer management and using cutting edge technologies such as artificial intelligence to revolutionise these patient pathways.”
This innovative research collaboration is bridging gaps across disciplines to address the challenges experienced by those with facial scarring, bringing together surgeons and mental health researchers under one roof to tackle both the physical and mental health care required for both initial recovery and living a full life thereafter.
In March 2022, HRH The Countess of Wessex, patron to The Scar Free Foundation, visited the world-leading facial reconstruction research programme based at the Medical School’s Institute of Life Science, meeting ambassadors and patients who could benefit from the ground-breaking studies.
The Countess of Wessex was accompanied by lead Ambassador for The Scar Free Foundation, Falklands Veteran Simon Weston.
Mr Weston, who has scars over 85-90 per cent of his body after a bomb hit his ship in the Falklands conflict, said:
“The opportunity to rebuild the confidence of people who have facial and body disfigurements is immense. You can’t change what happens to people but through this research and development you can change what their future can look like.”