By Rory Reynolds
SCIENTISTS working on a major skin cancer project have received a huge funding boost from the European Research Council to create skin tissue in the laboratory.
Researchers at Dundee University have been given £1.8million towards the pioneering TreatSkin project, headed up by world renowned specialist Professor Irene Leigh.
The research will take advantage of state-of-the-art techniques, including tissue engineering, to focus on genetic targets linked to cancer and other genetics skin conditions.
The team will use these techniques to create human skin tissue to be grafted onto mice to allow long-term tests to be carried out.
Professor Leigh, head of the medical and dentistry school and vice-principal of Dundee University, said: “We have already identified genetic targets that are active in skin cancer and some other skin diseases – now we need to test whether these can be manipulated in order to stop these diseases occurring or repair the damage they cause,” said Professor Leigh.
“This is an important step in translating genetic research to pre-clinical testing, a key part of the whole process of drug discovery.”
Professor Leigh added that this kind of research is “extremely difficult”, however the funding will support the team for five years, allowing them to carry out extensive research on skin cancer.
She added that the team are using the same technology that recreates skin tissue for burns victims to test their methods on.
She said: “This sort of research is extremely difficult to do on humans but also very hard to do on animals.
“However, using the kind of tissue engineering that is very commonly used to create human skin tissue and which has already been used very successfully in areas like the treatment of burns victims, we have developed a technique that means we can do this effectively.
“You can’t just use the laboratory-grown skin tissue on its own for this research as it is only viable for around four to six weeks.
“So to be able to identify long-term effects – which we absolutely need to do – then you have to make use of animals and graft the skin on. This gives absolutely the best reconstruction of human skin that we can get.”
The ERC, which has awarded the grant to Dundee University, funds new advanced research, including ‘frontier technologies’ which do not always have the charity base that some cancer and heart disease organisations do.
Professor Leigh added: “This funding expands the skills we have in my group here and provides long term backing for this work, which is essential in maintaining capacity to carry out tissue engineering, led by Dr Andrew South.”
“The long-term benefits of this could be extremely significant. These are common and very serious diseases we are looking at and the effect of finding new treatments for them could be huge.”