Now to relax… well for a few minutes at least

RAFT’s annual Progress Report, which specifically highlights all of our scientific progress for the past year, has been completed and is being mailed out in the next few weeks.

Without patting ourselves too hard on the back, we think it’s be best one yet.

“The progress report is a different kettle of fish from Highlights which comes out in December,” says Velo Mitrovich, RAFT’s writer and designer. “While a portion of Highlights is about what our wonderful volunteers and donors have accomplished for RAFT, the Progress Report is strictly focused on our science teams.”


 Working closely with Velo in getting all of RAFT’s publications finished in a timely manner is Amanda Bailey.“It’s a good working relationship because while we’re quite different in our approaches to projects, we both want exactly the same outcome – the absolute best report that we can do,” says Velo. “People think we’re kidding when the day after a publication comes out we start worrying about the next issue. We’re not.”

 With both Highlights and the Progress Report, Amanda and Velo sit down months ahead of the deadline to start planning what is going to go inside.

“Our aim is to show exactly what we are doing at RAFT so people will realise just how important their donations are to us,” says Amanda. “We have open house days at RAFT so people can come in and see our work first-hand. For the majority of our donors, however, a visit to RAFT isn’t possible so this is the next best thing.”

Once Velo interviews subjects and writes up the first draft of stories, they get sent back to the project team leader for a factual fact. Often times this can go back and forth about as frequent as a volley at Wimbledon.

“The last thing I would ever want to be accused of doing would be to ‘dumb-down’ an article, but on-the-other-hand, sometimes our scientists don’t seem to understand that most of us don’t spend our lives in a laboratory,” says Velo. “You need to reach that happy medium with science writing.”

Once the story is finished then the design process begins. Photos need to be taken and any graphs figured out. Almost always there is too much material for the pages so cuts need to be made; which at times means sending the story back to the scientist in question to make sure nothing vital has been chopped.

After Amanda has proofed the stories, she gives them to other staff so additional eyes can go over the text. “At times, because Velo and I have seen the text so often, our eyes glaze over mistakes,” says Amanda. “Then when someone points out the obvious – like a misspelled headline – Velo and I feel like hitting ourselves on the head for missing it.”

Despite Velo having been in the UK for over 14 years, American English spellings or expressions can still creep in. “Last year Velo was doing an article on the fundraising team and with him being a big Tour de France fan he wanted to compare us to a finely tuned bicycle - which in the States would be fine,” says Amanda. “I had to explain to him that here comparing a woman to a bicycle is not exactly a compliment. In fact, I think I’m still mad at him for that!”

Raina has been busy with meetings!

Raina, our Surgical Research Fellow, recently attended two meetings. Raina talks below about what the meetings were for and her experience.
                                                                                                                                 “EURAPS (The European Association of Plastic Surgeons) in Munich
This is an annual conference in which the marriage between science and its application in the clinical setting is evident. Plastic surgeons and research scientists, very often surgeonslike myself, who have taken a couple of years out of hospital duties to do research, come together, presenting the latest technologies and developments in transgression from bench to bedside.
The acceleration of wound healing and the ongoing evolution of stem cell research were hot topics. Conferences such as these are brilliant at bringing together ideas, injecting new food for thought, and certainly at rekindling my love for all things plastic surgery, especially hand surgery.

EESC (European Economic and Social Committee) - Women Entrepreneurs in Brussels
It was an honour to be invited to speak at this meeting. I was asked to share my experience as a female entrepreneur in the UK and in Malta, having created and grown The Academy of Aesthetic Excellence and Aesthetic Virtue single-handedly.
It was extremely interesting and enjoyable meeting like minded individuals, even if we didn’t quite agree on all points brought forward!”

Eeek… new home!

The freeze dryer was transported to a company in Sheffield from RAFT. They will provide a clean room (sterile environment) for the manufacture of the smart matrix scaffold under good manufacturing practice (GMP).

The freeze dryer is an essential part of the manufacturing process as it is used to remove the water content (moisture) from the smart matrix scaffold to increase shelf life (stability) of the product, hence, long term storage.

Why are conferences so important?

Why are conferences so important?

Julian attended the EWMA (European Wound Management Association). Firstly you might ask, “What do the EWMA do?” The association works to promote the advancement of education and research into epidemiology, pathology, diagnosis, prevention and management of wounds of all varieties. EWMA brings all wound management associations across Europe together with individuals and organisations interested in wound management. 

Here Julian talks about what happened and what he has come away with.               


“The meeting was first of all a showcase for RAFT’s partnership with the Lindsey Leg Club. We had a brilliant poster about the development of our partnership and what we are aspiring to achieve – to have a direct link between the grass root of caring for people with chronic wounds, and research which is working hard to improve the treatments available. This two-way traffic aims to educate us as scientists at RAFT, about real clinical issues, and to disseminate our work to leg club members, to create interest, invite contact and support our research effort.

I am especially grateful to Ellie Lindsey and the leg club foundation for their enthusiastic partnering promoting RAFT’s work, and great networking activities. This was given a real boost by having fliers on a display stand, and also a brand new banner displaying the ethos of our partnership. EWMA is a large meeting both in terms of clinical and academic delegates and also commercial exhibitors, a significant percentage of whom have come away knowing of RAFT and its work.

Following on from this, I was able to find out about many of the latest commercial developments in woundcare, seeing both innovation and understanding limitations of various technologies. This is not just surveying ‘the competition’, but looking for possible synergies and appreciating good examples of translational science.

The heart of the conference was a very packed schedule of talks, mainly in parallel sessions, as is the norm in international meetings. On this note it is remarkable that wound healing has grown to such a hive of activity from being a non-discipline in the last 20 years. Although this does mean having to be relaxed about missing some things and being selective, it is extremely difficult to be bored! I came away learning a lot. One of the good things about meetings is being surprised, meeting people from very different countries and backgrounds, finding interest in talks which sound way off topic, and testing out ideas and understandings with the elder statesmen of the discipline. Certainly I have come away with greater knowledge and understanding and clearer ideas about how Smart Matrix will need to be used, and how we might achieve this.

The only downside – no time for sightseeing!”

So all in all why are conferences so important? In this case Julian was able to meet and talk to various people from all over the world, to hear about current work, what the future holds, to spread the word of RAFT and to really see how our research really will help others.

MVH Liaison Health and Safety

RAFT’s Laboratory Manager/Health and Safety Officer Khwaja is responsible for overseeing the running of RAFT’s laboratories, ensuring our scientists are working in a safe environment.

He recently attended Mount Vernon Hospital’s Health and Safety meeting and here are a few snippets.

"This quarterly meeting takes place in the Post Graduate Centre in Mount Vernon Hospital. All Health and Safety representatives for the department attend.  This includes, Nurses, Managers and Health and Safety personnel of Hillingdon Hospital NHS Trust. The Chair person is the main Health and Safety advisor for Hillingdon Hospital.  

I look forward to attending this meeting, as it provides an opportunity to gain knowledge of issues regarding health and safety on site.  It is also an avenue for open and frank discussion of the lack or need to improve the service on site, as well as receiving free advice on health and safety.  

The main topics for discussion are: Fire, Asbestos and Health & Safety.  Sometimes other issues of importance are also discussed, i.e. car park issues on site which is big problem on MVH. The duration of the meeting is one hour.”

RAFTers at work

Tags: science

Working with RAFT

I never had this problem before.

When I worked for the US Coast Guard, a newspaper in Hong Kong, the Thames Valley Police – even at a feng shui magazine - nobody ever gave me a completely blanked looked when I said where I worked.

But then I started writing for RAFT.

“RAFT? Is that some sort of lifeboat organisation?”

“No, it’s the Restoration of Appearance and Function Trust, you know, RAFT.”

“Oh yeah…RAFT…Hey, I’d like to stay and talk about it but I need to find the cheese dip.”

No, it’s not always easy being a Rafter.

One of RAFT’s selling points is that it is unique when it comes to charities; unlike most research charities which then fund others to do their work, RAFT’s funds stay in-house and supports its own team of scientists.

Working for RAFT is unique as well.

The world of science and research is a very different world from most other jobs. There is no clock-in/ clock-out mentality, with someone on high dictating each day what you do. Work is project/grant driven and it is up to each to figure out what they do and where they fit in. As a writer, my job is similar.

Unlike working for a newspaper where you basically fill white space with ink every day, at RAFT it is up to me to figure out needed projects, get approval, and get writing. If I don’t, then I don’t work.

If you require constant supervision or a clear vision of your goals, then RAFT would not be your place. Scientists work in a world where everything is viewed through a murky glass; there are no clear, cut answers. It’s up to them to find the solutions and this philosophy is throughout RAFT.

For a writer, however, ‘murky’ is one of the best possible worlds to be in because one of the prime requirements of writing is to have a strong sense of curiosity.  If something is interesting to me, then that’s what I write about.

Oddly enough, working for RAFT reminds me very much of my Coast Guard days. Unlike the big services, the Coast Guard is small and so is its budget. While in the US Air Force $100 dollars screws are the norm, that could never happen in the Guard where a bag of gold-plated screws fit for a general would destroy its entire budget for the year. RAFT works under the same principal of frugality.

The Coast Guard is the smallest service in the States, with people working in small, close-knit teams; the same too is at RAFT. Everyone knows each other; their strengths and weakness and when the call goes out for ‘all hands on deck’; everyone responds.

What I find funny is that while RAFT is so small, it gets under your skin and seems to become a part of you. At times I’ve contacted plastic surgeons who did research here years ago; they still feel a part of the RAFT team.

Now let me go find that guy looking for the cheese dip. I’m sure he wants to hear more about RAFT.

Velo Mitrovich

Why scientists at RAFT need the equipment we raise funds for.

Science is in its own right, as old as time. Scientists have existed for as long as humans have. It becomes impossible to determine when science officially came about. But I like to think the first scientist was a caveman named Ook, who wanted to know what would happen if he poked a sleeping sabre tooth tiger with a stick. I am sure he had a hypothesis; the sabre tooth tiger would wake up. But maybe he didn’t think much past that point. This is in crude terms what science essentially is. Experiments involve varying properties to see how (for example) cells react. I’d like to think that we 21st century scientists have come far since the days of poking sabre tooth tigers with sticks. These days, scientists work on cellular, atomic and even subatomic levels. To work on such small scales, we need to isolate and maintain these components, and this inevitably requires a lot of highly accurate equipment with price tags to match. Let’s face it, no one’s going to find the cure to the common cold with the afore mentioned stick.

Translational medicine is the process of taking a good laboratory idea to patients. Its split into two stages, pre-clinical and clinical. Us scientists at RAFT deal with the pre-clinical stage, which involves a lot of work with cells. Cells are notoriously fickle, ask any cell biologist; you may be working with a set of cells, repeating the same experiment for weeks on end, but then you will come in one day and discover that they have just decided to up and die. It then becomes critical to find out why on earth, after months of giving the same results, they have decided to stop behaving. Worst case scenario, the incubator (which keeps cells at 37 degrees Celsius- body temperature) has broken down. This means all your cells are dead, months of work has gone to waste and to top it all off, lack of funding means having to wait while the fund raising team try to raise the money to get it fixed.

The cells are cultured to be seeded onto the Smart MatrixTM. One of my roles on the team is to help make these scaffolds. The whole process can take anything up to twelve hours to make up a batch. There have been times that Vaibhav has slaved away for hours only to come back in the morning and discover a blizzard in the lab, because the freeze dryer has broken down. Again this is a high precision, expensive piece of kit essential to the work we do. Again, while the fundraisers are furiously trying to sort out the finance to fix or purchase a new machine; all work is on hold.

I myself have been twiddling my thumbs for some time now, while trying to locate a second had rheometer, which is a strenuous exercise, and a valuable lesson I have learnt is that even in science if something looks too good to be true, it most definitely is. There have been times when I’ve come across a machine that would be just perfect, only to discover the reason its so cheap is because its twenty five years old and in the fine print; ‘please note, this machine may require some attention before it is fully functional, and some components may be lacking.’

A lack of funding is something that many small research labs struggle with. Especially in this climate, everyone is feeling the pinch. As a charity, we rely on the generosity of the public to carry out our research.

Niroshehaa Ragunathan