50 years of care: the Blond McIndoe Foundation

The Blond McIndoe Research Foundation at East Grinstead celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Chief executive Jacquie Pinney looks back at its Battle of Britain heritage and its relevance in today's world

The Blond McIndoe Research Foundation was the dream of one special man, Sir Archibald McIndoe, who treated more than 600 burned airmen during WWII.  These airmen later formed the world-famous Guinea Pig Club.  Archie, or The Maestro as he was known to his patients, was a true pioneer who combined exceptional surgical skills with genuine compassion for the young men he was treating.  The work done by McIndoe in rehabilitating badly burned aircrew was outstanding, not only physically but also psychologically.  Richard Hilary, a terribly burned fighter pilot treated by McIndoe and later killed in action, gives a graphic account in The Last Enemy of what he and others like him owe to the skill and inspiration of this incredible surgeon.  The Foundation came about through the enduring friendship formed between Sir Archibald and a local couple, Mr and Mrs Neville Blond. The Blonds opened their beautiful Sussex home to convalescing patients, some of whom were in hospital for more than three years for rest and relaxation.  During  this time, despite Sir Archibald's gruelling schedule of work, he and Neville Blond began formulating the idea for an independent research centre. At the end of the war, with the demands being made on the Ministry of Health following the expansion of the National Health Service, Government funding was not available for this type of project. As a result, in 1958, Mr and Mrs Blond provided the sum of �10,000 to construct and equip a building, thus enabling serious planning to begin.  Other donations followed, a Trust was set up, and the Centre opened in 1961 shortly after Sir Archibald's untimely death at the age of 60.The vision of Sir Archibald to combine treatment advances with robust research informed by clinicians at the ‘coalface’, continues to this day. This is much needed as each year, worldwide, an estimated six million patients seek medical help for burns. Burn injury is a common type of traumatic injury, causing considerable morbidity and mortality. Moreover, burns are also among the most expensive traumatic injuries, because of long hospitalisation and rehabilitation, and costly wound and scar treatmentThe advancement of surgical research in plastic surgery and burns is central to the ethos of the Foundation. The work we do has moved on a great deal since those early pioneering years of the second World War but there is still a great deal more research that needs to be done. The Blond McIndoe Research Foundation’s long history has seen significant achievements in transplant biology, nerve repair, corneal stem cells and cell culture. Our research focus of the last 5-8 years has been directed towards the improvement of wound healing by using stem cells in patients suffering from burns, scalds and other tissue damage caused by trauma or disease.BMRF have been at the forefront of innovative ways to deliver skin cells to patients suffering from severe burns injuries. We are one of the few units in the UK capable of growing the patient’s own skin cells in order to efficiently and successfully replace skin loss in burn injuries. This is an alternative strategy to conventional skin grafts and is particularly suitable for patients with large burns and little healthy skin available for grafting.One of our strengths is our unique location, still in those same buildings within the grounds of the Queen Victoria Hospital, but it means that we have daily interaction with clinicians to ensure that our research has direct clinical relevance.Trainee surgeons have made a significant contribution to our research and MD fellows and clinical PhD students have, since the establishment of the charity, been key to the success of many research projects. They have used their newly acquired skills and knowledge, in both academic and clinical practice, to good effect.  Many past employees of the Blond McIndoe Research Foundation have become consultant plastic surgeons demonstrating the benefits of a well organised, productive period of research in plastic surgery and burns training.Over the past few years, through the appointment of Professor Di Lawrence-Watt as our Director of Research we have developed strong links and collaborations with, among others, Brighton & Sussex Medical School, University of Brighton and Imperial College to support our aims of improving outcomes for patients. It is particularly pertinent, as we celebrate this incredible milestone, that our country is again at war with thousands of young service personnel returning from Afghanistan with life changing and life threatening injuries. It is vital that we do everything we can to help them and civilians all over the world who are injured. We maintain our military connections through Lt Colonel Tania Cubison (currently on tour of duty in Afghanistan) who is a consultant plastic surgeon at the Queen Victoria Hospital and actively involved in the treatment and rehabilitation of serving armed forces personnel.  One thing that has not changed since the early sixties is that the Foundation still does not receive any statutory funding and relies entirely on donations to continue this absolutely essential work.  Without our loyal supporters and funders we would not be here today.  However, research is very expensive and if we are to be here for another 50 years, we need to continue to strive for new sources of funding.

Royal supportThe patronage of HRH The Princess Royal and the late Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother before her, are a testament to the quality and value of our work.  Our charity is a beacon for excellence in research in Sussex and employs and trains outstanding young people in the fields of medicine and science.We are extremely proud of the work that we do and welcome visits, by prior arrangement, from small groups who are interested in learning more about our research and seeing real science in action. To look down a microscope and see human cells growing is a humbling experience.  To find out more visit www.blondmcindoe.com