Four people standing in a row in labcoats and suits, in front of shelves of chemicals.

Charity-funded research could lead to new lung scarring treatment

Scientists at the Royal Free Hospital are exploring new treatments for lung scarring, a common complication in systemic sclerosis, thanks to a research grant from the Royal Free Charity.

In their laboratory work, researchers identified that an amino acid peptide sequence could potentially block signals from the immune cells that contribute to pulmonary fibrosis, the scarring process seen in systemic sclerosis.

Professor Richard Stratton, consultant rheumatologist, said: “In our laboratory research, we found evidence that this amino acid sequence can effectively interfere with the pro-fibrotic signals emitted by the scleroderma-affected cells while leaving the healthy immune cell function intact.

“Our initial research shows us that in controlled research conditions, it’s possible to interfere with the process that causes lung fibrosis. Now, we want to investigate these findings further to see if we can translate that research into new treatments in the form of medicines. If successful, this offers hope for improved outcomes and quality of life for our patients affected by inflammatory fibrosis.”

The Royal Free Charity funded the two-year research project jointly with the medical research charity Rosetrees Trust, with each organisation contributing £10,000.

Thanks to the success of the initial trial, Prof Stratton’s team has secured a funding injection of £778k from UCL to fund the further research needed to test the new treatment in clinical trials.

  • Scleroderma is the name for a range of conditions that affect the immune system (autoimmune conditions).
  • Scleroderma occurs because part of the immune system has become overactive. This leads to cells in the connective tissue producing too much collagen, causing scarring and thickening (fibrosis) of the tissue.
  • In systemic sclerosis, internal organs can be affected as well as the skin. This type mostly affects women and usually develops between 30 and 50 years of age.
Lead photo: Professor Stratton (second right) with some of his research team