New Research : Assess & Reverse 'Biological' ageing due to traumatic injury and scarring

The Scar Free Foundation today launched the world’s first in depth research programme to assess and reverse the ‘biological’ ageing process of Armed Forces veterans with traumatic injury.

In the run up to Armed Forces Day, medical research charity The Scar Free Foundation is today launching a world-leading research programme that aims to assess and reverse the ‘biological’ ageing effect that traumatic injury and scarring can have on Armed Forces veterans. The 15-month research study at The Scar Free Foundation Centre for Conflict Wound Research, Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham will seek to improve the wellbeing of military trauma survivors and inform future treatments for both veteran and civilian patients.

Major traumatic injury and resulting scarring can lead to accelerated ‘biological’ ageing with premature incidences of age-related cancers, heart disease, dementia and death. More than 6,000 members of the British Armed Forces have been seriously injured or scarred in recent military conflict* and the study will take data from 100 military trauma survivors as well as a matched control group of 50 non-injured veterans to assess the true impact of military trauma on people’s ‘biological age’ and long-term wellbeing. Participants in the study are all veterans of the Afghanistan conflict.

Until recently there has been no way of measuring how fast someone was ageing but now, using recently developed blood cell analysis, the biological age of veterans will be determined by measuring the DNA methylation of blood samples taken from both injured and non-injured veterans. DNA methylation is a chemical and structural modification made to genes which occurs with age. By measuring the nature of these changes, it is possible to determine a person’s biological age, which can differ from their actual or chronological age. The research team will use this data to measure the correlation between severe trauma and accelerated ageing. Through questionnaires and further blood analysis, researchers will also assess levels of physical activity amongst the veterans to determine if this can reduce the impact of trauma on their biological age.

The study will seek to improve the wellbeing of military trauma survivors by providing scientific evidence to support the provision of more effective interventions and programmes to injured personnel, promoting physical activities that reduce the likelihood of veterans prematurely developing age related diseases as a result of their injuries, improving recovery and life-long physical wellbeing. The findings will also benefit civilian survivors of major injury such as road accidents, terror attack or natural disasters.

The need for this research into the impact of accelerated ageing is championed by veterans themselves, and The Scar Free Foundation is working closely with members of The CASEVAC Club (veterans severely injured in recent operations in Iraq and Afghanistan). Club members have been involved in the trial and design of the charity’s research and are now being recruited as participants to this new study.

“As the Co-Founder of the CASEVAC Club - the ‘Unexpected Survivors’ of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, I am proud to support Professor Janet Lord’s study at The Scar Free Foundation Centre for Conflict Wound Research. Wounded veterans have many unanswered questions about their long-term health and this pioneering research will help answer these questions. It will be really exciting if the scientists discover that there are proven interventions to lessen the impact of our injuries and reverse any ‘biological ageing’. This is an amazing investment in both our future and that of severely injured civilians.”

David Henson MBE, Ph.D. Co-Founder, The CASEVAC-Club

“The Scar Free Foundation’s research programme will essentially enable us to turn back people’s biological clocks. We’ll assess the true impact of military trauma on biological ageing and provide the scientific evidence that injured veterans who lead an active lifestyle have a lower ‘biological age’ and therefore better long-term, physical wellbeing outcomes, than those who lead less active lives. This will provide an evidence base for the physical benefits of activity (including intense physiotherapy) which we believe will lessen the likelihood of poor health in the future and reverse this accelerated ageing process. We aim to expand this initial study into a larger cohort of veterans in the future.”

Professor Janet Lord, Principal Investigator at The Scar Free Foundation Centre for Conflict Wound Research and Director of the Institute of Inflammation and Ageing at The University of Birmingham

This project would not be possible without the support from our Donors.

A special thanks goes to The Veterans Foundation, The Hobson Charity Limited and the Chancellor using LIBOR funds