GMRI scientists lead the way in solving crippling hand disease

GMRI scientists lead the way in solving crippling hand disease

People suffering from Dupuytren’s disease could ultimately regain the function of their hands and quality of life, thanks to the international award-winning work of the Gillies McIndoe Research Institute (GMRI), which NZCT has funded since 2013.

“Dupuytren’s disease causes one or more fingers to curl into the palm due to the contracting and toughening of connective tissue. While surgery is commonly used to remove the contracted tissue, it involves prolonged periods of rehabilitation and readily recurs in some patients. In extreme cases, it may necessitate amputation,” said Executive Director of the GMRI, Dr Swee Tan.

While this disease is still poorly understood and treated, it affects millions of people worldwide, particularly those of Northern European descent. High profile sufferers include British actor, Bill Nighy.

Twenty-year-old summer student, Sabrina Koh, has won the 2017 International Dupuytren Award for her research. Ms Koh’s project was based on the novel approach of focusing on the stem cell origin of Dupuytren’s disease, closely mirroring research that the GMRI is undertaking into the origins of cancer.

“Our recent research has shown that cancer stem cells are the potential origin of cancer. We believe that a combination of existing, affordable medications commonly used for other conditions can be repurposed, and used to manipulate the key pathways that control cancer stem cells and, ultimately, the progression of cancer.”

“Our objective is to create a low-cost and widely available treatment for cancer,” Dr Tan said.

This approach has already proven successful in a small series of patients and a full clinical study is planned for later this year, subject to funding.