SFF Centre for Conflict Wound Research hosts stimulating Military Symposium in Birmingham

The Scar Free Foundation (SFF) Conflict Wound Research Symposium took place at the University of Birmingham Medical School on the 16th and 17th of May, 2019. Supported by the Chancellor, using LIBOR funds, the aim of this event was to aid in setting a research agenda for conflict wound research over the next decade.

Day 1 – Thursday, May 16th
Mr Brenden Eley, Chief Executive of the Scar Free Foundation, opened the event by warmly welcoming the attendees and outlining SFF’s intentions for the event. Mr Eley’s welcome was seconded by the Director of the Centre for Conflict wound Research (CfCWR), Professor Naiem Moiemen, who outlined the history of wound research in Birmingham and his vision for the Centre.

It was then the Symposium’s privilege to welcome three eminent representatives from the UK and US military. Lt Gen Richard Nugee, Chief of Defence People, gave the day’s opening address. General Nugee was then succeeded by Air Cdre Richard Withnall (Head of Research & Clinical Innovation, UK Defence Medical Services) and Col Mike Davis (USAF Director US Combat Casualty Care Research Program) who expanded upon the defence priorities of both the UK and US, respectively. This was an enthralling session, particularly with Col Davis’s insights into US perspectives on the nature of future conflicts. A lively debate then followed with great enthusiasm from the floor.

After the military opener the themed talks began, starting with Theme 1: Acute Wound Care and Diagnosis. This session was chaired by Lt Col Graham Lawton (Imperial College London) and Mr Adam Reid (University of Manchester). First to speak was Dr James Fildes (Honorary Senior Lecturer, University of Manchester) who spoke about “Models to enable acute wound care diagnostics and therapies research”. The second speaker from the University of Oxford: Dr Mark Thompson (Associate Prof in Engineering Science), gave his talk entitled “Mechanobiology and Bioengineering for Trauma”. Last up to the podium in Theme 1 was Prof Mark Wilson (Prof in Brain Injury, Imperial College London) who spoke about “The Brain as an Acute Combat Wound”.

Talks resumed after lunch, with Professor Janet Lord (University of Birmingham) and Dr Abi Spear (Dstl, Porton Down) acting as chairs for Theme 2: The Biology of Scarring. The first to speaker in this session was Professor Paul Martin (Prof of Cell Biology, University of Bristol) who spoke on the “Basic science strategies for understanding wound healing mechanisms”. Next, Dr Fadi Issa (Wellcome Trust CRCD Fellow, University of Oxford) addressed the group with his question “How can immune regulation help in reconstruction?” Lastly, Dr Carrie Ambler (Associate Professor, Durham University) provided her talk to the group entitled: “Immune/epithelial interactions in wound repair”.

The last series of talks came from Theme 3: Lifelong Impact of Scar, Revision and Rehabilitation, with Professor Di Harcourt (University of West England) and Gp Capt Jon Kendrew (University Hospital Birmingham) leading. Senior Research Fellow at the University of West England, Dr Heidi Williamson gave the first talk of the theme; “Addressing the psychosocial support needs of military personnel, and their families, affected by scarring: where next?” Afterwards, Ms Melanie Chesnokov (Senior Project Manager for ADVANCE, Imperial College London) provided the group with a talk concerning the ADVANCE study and “The long term consequences of serious battlefield trauma”. The final thematic speaker was Dr Hilary Engward (Senior Research Fellow, Anglia Ruskin University) who discussed limb loss in her talk “’It’s what you’re never told’: Learning to ‘be’ with limb loss through rehabilitation and discharge”.
The day’s sessions drew to a close with an animated discussion about the issues and challenges raised and the scene was set for day 2.

Delegates then enjoyed a drinks reception and dinner at the nearby Edgbaston Park Hotel. The highlight of the evening was an emotive and engaging speech by JJ Chalmers, who as a Former Royal Marine Commando, spoke of his experiences after receiving devastating injuries in Afghanistan in 2011.

Day 2 – Friday May 17th
It was a great honour to have welcomed Mr David Wiseman, CASEVAC Club, to open day 2. He eloquently articulated his own experiences of war and the importance of the “lived experience” voice in conflict wound research.

Delegates were then split into three break-out groups, based on the symposium themes, to discuss and generate research priorities. These energetic sessions were chaired by the theme leads and led to highly spirited debate. After a few hours the Symposium re-grouped and the outcomes of the break-out groups shared and further debated.
Closing remarks by Mr Eley and Professor Moiemen followed where they warmly thanked the delegates for their attendance and avid participation, the organisers, and in particular the leads who did superb jobs of running their themes. In addition to expressing their gratitude, they were very positive about the success of the event and that the Scar Free Foundation had much to contemplate before their funding call, based on the Symposium’s discussions, later in 2019. Key delegates were invited to add to their closing remarks and this included Prof Sir Bruce Keogh who was previously Medical Director of the NHS and National Medical Director of NHS England, and is now Chairman of the Scar Free Foundation.

The Symposium then closed after 2 days of stimulating discussion and debate from an excitingly diverse and unique attendance.

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