GMRI scientists lead the way in solving crippling hand disease

Sabrina Koh, Deane Endowment Trust sponsored summer student

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).

Dr Swee Tan, Executive Director of the GMRI today congratulated 20-year-old Deane Endowment Trust sponsored summer student Sabrina Koh, for winning the 2017 International Dupuytren Award. Her research has also been published in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Global Open, the most prestigious plastic surgery journal in the world.

“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 Dr Tan.

Dupuytren’s disease

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 Bill Nighy who recently spoke about his condition on Radio New Zealand’s Saturday Morning programme.

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.

Dr Tan acknowledged Sir Roderick Deane and Lady Gillian Deane for their ongoing generous support of the GMRI’s summer student programme that made the Dupuytren’s disease research possible.

Ms Koh’s research was supervised by GMRI Chief Scientific Officer Dr Tinte Itinteang, and the team included plastic and hand surgeon Dr Jim Armstrong, Dr Tan, Dr Paul Davis, Dr Helen Brasch, and summer student Nicholas On.


For media enquires please contact Peter Fitzjohn on 027 740 9281

For more information and images of Dupuytren’s disease

Access the full research paper Embryonic Stem Cell–like Population in Dupuytren’s Disease