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WATCH: 'Butterfly disease' sufferer Claudia (14) speaks with idol Johnny Sexton about pain and public attention

Gareth Morgan ·

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Claudia Scanlon (14) from Terenure in Dublin has a severe form of the 'butterfly skin' disease EB (epidermolysis bullosa), which leaves 80pc of her body covered in wounds.

This incredibly painful genetic condition causes the skin layers and internal body linings to blister and wound at the slightest touch.

VIDEO: Johnny Sexton is interviewed to raise awareness of EB and Debra Ireland

One of only 300 people in Ireland with EB, Claudia has to be bandaged almost from head to toe. Her body is 80pc covered in bandages, which have to be changed every two days, an extremely painful process that takes several hours. Despite the difficulties, parents Liz and Gary try to ensure that Claudia, who is a Junior Cert pupil at St Louis High School, Rathmines, has as normal a life as possible.

"As a teenage girl, she wants to be out in society but she can feel left out and she has been very hurt by being excluded," said Liz. "EB dictates her life, she can't even take something as simple as a bus journey on her own, as she can't risk a fall or being bumped into.

"With social media today, everything is about appearances, which can be very tough, but beneath the bandages is a teenager with similar emotions, ideas and interests as others her age."

Claudia recently got to meet one of her sporting idols, rugby star Johnny Sexton, for a one-on-one interview about coping with pain and a host of other revealing questions.

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Brave: Claudia Scanlon (14) has bandages over 80pc of her body due to her EB disease

Breakthrough

Today, which marks the start of National EB Awareness Week, it was announced that a new gene therapy breakthrough will give new hope to people living with epidermolysis bullosa (EB).

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Claudia with Johnny Sexton

Researchers at UCD have produced a gel-like treatment containing a working gene which, they hope, will form functioning skin and dramatically improve healing.

The gel, which inserts a functioning gene into skin cells, has been theoretically proven to work with one strand of the disease.

Researchers are carrying out further studies to see if it will work on patient skin and on other forms of EB.

The best part of this therapy is that it does not involve painful skin-grafting procedures or risks associated with viral treatments in delivering functioning genes to the skin.

The gene therapy research has been carried out over the past nine years by Professor Wenxin Wang between NUIG and UCD, and has been part-funded by EB charity Debra Ireland through public donations.

Debra Ireland provides day-to-day support for EB patients and their families and also funds research programmes to find better treatments and possible cures for EB.

"If this treatment is successful, people living with EB will be able to apply a gel to their skin and it will improve wound healing and the forming of functioning skin," said Debra Ireland head of research Dr Sinead Hickey.

"This is not a cure, but this gel could make skin stronger and could improve life expectancy as a result.

"It may also prevent wounds in the first place. If there are no wounds then patients will suffer fewer infections, feel less pain, less itch and develop less skin cancer.

"A pharmaceutical company has now taken over the development of this gel, but it would not have come about without the public donations which funded the first three years of research."

This week is National EB Awareness Week and Debra Ireland is asking the public to get involved.

"Quite simply, EB is still classed as an incurable disease, and through public support we are funding gene therapy research in the hope of a breakthrough in either pain and skin management, or in battling the root cause itself.

"There are research projects similar to Professor Wang's out there, waiting to be funded, which could bring us a step closer to a cure.

"The answer lies in supporting technology that works on genes and changing DNA, and researchers such as Prof Wang and his team have shown us that the answer is there if we keep supporting EB researchers in their work."

Text the word BUTTERFLY to 50300 in order to make a €4 donation.

Irish Independent

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Brave: Claudia Scanlon (14) has bandages over 80pc of her body due to her EB disease
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Claudia with Johnny Sexton
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Brave: Claudia Scanlon (14) has bandages over 80pc of her body due to her EB disease
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Claudia with Johnny Sexton