Research Grants News

At Scleroderma & Raynaud's UK, we are committed to investing in Scleroderma and Raynaud's research and ultimately, finding a cure.

To date, we have invested over £10 million into research so that we understand why the conditions develop and how we can develop more life-saving and life-enhancing treatments. We are committed to investing even more into the most ground breaking and innovative research so that our community can feel the benefit of research sooner.

You can support our life changing work today by donating to help us take research even further than it's been before.

We are pleased to announce that we have awarded four exciting new grants in June 2018.

Here is an exclusive look at the four grants that we have awarded this year.

Dr Angela Tam (Royal Free Hospital/UCL): “Profiling of subpopulations of monocytes and monocyte-derived cells in scleroderma to identify targets for biomarker, patient stratification and therapy"

The research team will be looking at monocyte cell populations in early scleroderma patients, as well as patients for whom the condition is more established. Monocytes are large white blood cells in the immune system response and has been implicated in fibrosis. The team will be profiling the monocyte sub population in order to determine the impact of targeting these cells as part of a therapeutic intervention. This work will be able to determine whether these sub populations are also present in patients with early scleroderma, which could lead to the development of biomarkers and enable biomarker profiling.

Dr Clare Pain (Alder Hay Children's Hospital): “Elicitation of expert prior opinion for a future Bayesian randomised controlled trial for Juvenile Localised Scleroderma (JLS)"

This award is supporting the research team in developing a proposal for a clinical trial. As part of this award, SRUK have funded the setup of a critical expert meeting and panel to design the clinical trial. This clinical trial will test the merits of methotrexate versus mycophenolate mofetil as a treatment for juvenile localised scleroderma (JLS). Dr Pain has proposed the use of a novel clinical trial that will be able to determine the treatment value of mycophenolate mofetil without requiring a large number of patients.

Dr Francesco del Galdo (University of Leeds): “Preclinical pathologic signs of SSc in Raynaud's patients at risk of scleroderma"

Raynaud's Phenomenon is quite common in the UK with up to 10 million diagnosed. A very small sub population of people Raynaud's will exhibit more severe symptoms which could be the precursor to an autoimmune condition such as scleroderma. This research team will be working with a group of Raynaud's patients who have signs of being at risk for developing scleroderma to determine what factors are at play.

Clinical data will be collected over a 3 year period and analysed to determine the presence of biomarkers associated with scleroderma. This research will have huge potential in being able to 'predict' who will develop scleroderma and therefore will enable earlier treatment that may be able to prevent, or even cure, the condition.

Dr Richard Stratton (Royal Free Hospital/UCL): “Using microneedle patches to administer novel anti-fibrotic peptides in order to treat Scleroderma"

SRUK have awarded a grant to Dr Richard Stratton, based at the Royal Free Hospital in London, to carry out a preclinical study investigating the efficacy of a novel treatment for the lesions caused by skin fibrosis. Macrophages, white blood cells that are a part of the immune system, have been implicated in playing a role in the progression of fibrosis through recruitment of other factors into the lesion sites. The research team will be evaluating the the efficacy of microneedle patches in delivering peptides that will work to prevent macrophage activity.

In 2017, we were pleased to award four grants to research dedicated to benefiting our community.

Dr Peter Butler (Royal Free Hospital/UCL): “Mechanistic study of autologous lipotransfer of SSC"

Facial fibrosis can take a big toll on someone who has scleroderma. This research team is pioneering an innovative new treatment to treat facial fibrosis using autologous lipotransfer of the patient's own fat tissue cells to reconstruct facial tissue. The results of this study will provide a possible treatment avenue that will also give insight into the processes underlying facial fibrosis.

Professor Chris Denton (Royal Free Hospital/UCL): “Modulation of systemic sclerosis biopathology by purified factor XIII"

Two key features of systemic sclerosis (SSc) are blood vessel damage and inappropriate and unwanted scar tissue formation. This project addresses the novel concept that a human blood protein, Factor Xlll, whose primary role is in blood clotting, may also be a key protein in the development of SSc. Factor Xlll is known to stabilise blood clots; but it also initiates wound healing and encourages the growth of new blood vessels. Understanding changes in these biomarkers could lead to a better understanding of the pathological processes behind SSc and the effects of Factor XIII treatment on the disease process. This grant provides an opportunity to study, in a controlled manner, the effects of Factor Xlll on SSc fibroblasts. It could yield valuable information about processes driving the disease and the way these processes might be affected by Factor Xlll.

Dr Richard Stratton (Royal Free Hospital/UCL): “Treating scleroderma by targeting pathogenic macrophages"

As an inflammatory condition, scleroderma is characterized by chronic recruitment of inflammation-promoting immune cells, particularly certain subclasses of macrophages, into the involved tissues. It is these activated immune cells which promote local inflammation and initiate the fibrotic process seen, leading to skin and organ damage. The inflammatory cells in scleroderma tissues are positive for a specific protein marker called CD206. Furthermore, drugs which specifically target the CD206 positive cells are potential treatments for macrophage-induced fibrotic disorders including scleroderma. In order to establish proof of concept, scleroderma inflammatory cells will be maintained with various concentrations of the new drugs in order to test the drugs' ability to inhibit or kill the disease-promoting cells from scleroderma patients, preferentially over cells from healthy volunteers.

Professor Rizgar Mageed (Queen Mary's University of London): “Molecular profiling of pathogenic B-lymphocytes in patients with systemic sclerosis"

Two near universal and cardinal characteristics of scleroderma are inflammation and autoimmunity. There is still a lot of information that is unknown about the pathology of the autoimmune response, in particular how pathogenic B-cells of the immune system participate in driving tissue fibrosis. This project will seek to identify these abnormal B-cell populations and study these cell types in further detail. Uncovering the differences between the pathogenic B-cells in SSc and normal regulatory B-cells could lead to the development of new, novel and selective treatments that specifically target these pathogenic and autoantibody producing B-cells.

In 2016, we awarded four grants to promising research areas as part of our ongoing commitment to research.

Dr Emma Derrett-Smith (UCL): “Molecular pathway analysis of keloidal morphea in systemic sclerosis"

Keloidal morphea is rare and therefore poorly understood, particularly when it develops in patients with co-existing scleroderma. Its development sometimes determines the decision to commence immunosuppressive drugs, though the rationale for doing so is not strong. The results from this study with patient samples will shed light on why some individuals develop keloidal morphea and the best ways to treat them.

Dr Alan Holmes (UCL): “The role of Endothelial-to-Mesenchymal Transition in scleroderma calcinosis"

Calcinosis occurs in up to 40% of scleroderma patients. Current therapies are limited and offer little benefit, because the biological processes that contribute to the development of calcinosis remain unknown. The endothelial cells lining blood vessels in scleroderma may change their properties and express genes leading to calcinosis and inflammation, a process known as endothelial-to-mesenchymal transition. Our studies with cultured endothelial cells will seek to understand how this happens and whether we can block it.

Dr Clare Pain (Liverpool, Alder Hay): “Assessing inflammation in childhood scleroderma: comparison of imaging and skin examination"

The effects of scleroderma on a growing child can be harsh: skin thickening limits bone and soft tissue growth, which can lead to deformity, disability and disfigurement. Treatment is with drugs that suppress the immune system which is thought to be overactive in this condition and causing inflammation, but getting the dose right is important as the drugs can have unwanted side-effects. This project aims to identify better ways to measure skin inflammation and so treat children appropriately.

Dr John Pauling (University of Bath): “An Epidemological Study of Systemic Sclerosis and its association with Cancer in the UK using the Clinical Practice Research Datalink (CPRD)"

This study will examine healthcare information from nearly 20 million UK residents and provide up to date figures on the number of patients in the UK with scleroderma whether the number of new patients with this disease is rising or falling. We will also examine the relationship between scleroderma and cancer to understand whether there is any link between the two conditions.