By Dr Liam Grover

My name is Liam Grover and I am Professor of Biomaterials Science at the University of Birmingham.


Which aspect of EB are you most interested in?

My research focusses on studying the interactions that occur between parts of the body and substances or materials. Learning about these can help us to develop new and better technologies and treatments that can improve wound healing in all types of EB. 


What does a day in your life as an EB researcher look like?

In my day-to-day job, I run a large lab that develops technologies to address a whole range of different symptoms and illnesses, from scarring through to viral infection.  My lab has a strong focus on making sure that these technologies have a clear pathway from development to benefitting patients from the start. 


What inspired you to work in EB research?

We have been working with EB for a number of years now, since we were introduced to some Birmingham-based EB patients by a local clinician (Adrian Heagerty).  I was immediately struck by the severity of the disease and how it can affect almost every aspect of a person’s life.  Since then, my research group has worked to transfer some of our technologies into clinical use to address some of these issues. 


What does funding from DEBRA mean to you?

Using DEBRA funding, we have already managed to develop a spray to reduce scarring inside the mouth where EB symptoms can affect chewing, swallowing and even breathing.  This spray is now available and is in the process of undergoing clinical trials to establish its usefulness to patients with serious oral symptoms and scarring.

Our most recent project seeks to transfer an eye-drop technology that was developed in my lab almost ten years ago to benefit EB patients.  EB can make a person’s eyes more vulnerable to damage than those who do not suffer with the disease.  When the surface of the eye becomes damaged, it becomes less effective at lubricating itself and this then results in further damage with every blink.  If this continuing cycle is not interrupted, it can be extremely painful, requiring frequent application of eye-drops and can even cause blindness.  The drop that we want to make available to people living with EB stays on the surface of the eye for a long-time, more than six hours, and has a strong lubricating effect.  We hope that this combination of properties will provide EB patients with some relief and improvement of their eye symptoms.  This technology is at a very advanced stage of development, with studies showing that it can restore function following damage to the eye, and first-in-human trials now approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) for people that suffer from severe dry-eye caused by other conditions.  The funding that we received from DEBRA will ensure that we can gather evidence to show that it is likely to be safe and effective for people with EB.  Without this funding we would find it difficult to build the case for the drop being deployed quickly to EB patients. 


Who’s on your team and what do they do to support your EB research?

The project is using the skills of a dedicated team of researchers with expertise in the treatment of EB (Adrian Heagerty), severe dry eye (Si Rauz), and material formulation (Richard Moakes).  It also helps to continue the engagement of both Tom Robinson and Sam Moxon in EB research. Tom was previously involved in the development of the oral spray and the project has brought Sam into the team to explore how well the drop lubricates the surface of the eye. So far, he has been able to show that the eye drop lubricates the surface at least as well as products that are currently on the market, and stays on the eye for longer before being finally blinked away  

We hope that, following our imminent first-in-human study, the new drops should be available to EB patients in a matter of months.  Our next step will be to undertake a trial to demonstrate exactly how much better our gel is at lubricating than other substances.


How do you relax when you’re not working on your research?

Liam Grover and  Richard Moakes from University of Birmingham wear DEBRA t shirts

In my spare time, I’m an avid supporter of Coventry City Football Club and a keen cyclist. In the Spring of 2024, with Richard Moakes, I will be riding from Lands-End to John O’Groats to raise money for DEBRA.