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Pipette painting marks pioneering cancer research

We have worked with renowned street artist James Cochran to create a unique work of art using a laboratory pipette. The painting symbolises the challenge we face to overcome cancer’s ability to evolve resistance to drugs, and the creativity needed by our scientists to discover new treatments.

Entitled Cell Defence, the painting which was created using the same kind of pipette used by our researchers, highlights the complexity of the research that will take place in our new Centre for Cancer Drug Discovery.

The Centre is now completed, but we still need your support to help us equip the building – to get our research in the new Centre off to the best possible start.

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Watch James Cochran explain the inspiration for his unique work of art  - ‘Cell Defence’

Connecting the dots

James, who is best known for his David Bowie mural in Brixton, has previously suffered from a type of skin cancer known as a basal cell carcinoma. He has lost loved ones to the disease, so this commission was quite personal to him. 

The artist was also inspired by the challenge that our researchers are taking on to develop innovative new treatments to outsmart cancer evolution. Reflecting their efforts in this painting was his own personal artistic challenge and a unique way to support our work in finishing cancer.

James painstakingly applied 1cm droplets of paint with the lab pipette onto a 1.25m x 1.25m canvas to create this highly original painting. The intricate artwork made up of an estimated 50,000 small dots took over 250 hours to paint.

Cell defence

Inspired by real-life microscopic images of liver cancer cells used in our cancer research, the image shows how the body’s own immune system responds to the cancer cells to try and keep cancer’s ability to adapt and evolve in check.

Marshalling the immune system in the form of new immunotherapies is just one of the pioneering approaches we are taking to outsmart cancer. 

Artist James Cochran posing with a laboratory pipette in front of his painting 'Cell Defence'

“I’m used to using cans of spray paint in my art, so swapping that for a lab pipette was quite challenging - but also very rewarding. The process of slowly building up the painting dot by dot and the inspiration for the piece gave me a better understanding of the challenges involved in finishing cancer and the inventiveness needed by scientists to do that.”

– James Cochran, artist


A new generation of treatments

Strategies to harness the immune response against cancer are a key part of our pioneering research to overcome the disease’s ability to evolve resistance to drugs. Cell Defence symbolises the complexities of cancer evolution research and the creativity and commitment needed by our scientists to stay one step ahead of cancer. 

Our revolutionary cancer evolution research will take place in our new Centre for Cancer Drug Discovery, which opens soon. The building will see around 300 evolutionary biologists and drug discovery scientists come together to lead an unprecedented ‘Darwinian’ drug discovery programme. 

Here we aim to overcome cancer’s ability to evolve resistance to drugs and ‘herd’ it into more treatable forms, in order to turn cancer into a manageable disease that can be controlled in the long term and effectively cured. 

James Cochran and Professor Mel Grieves in front of 'Cell Defence'

“By using a lab pipette as his brush and basing the painting on the ICR’s research into cancer evolution, James's piece does a wonderful job of capturing the blend of creativity and rigorous science that our team at the ICR uses every day to outsmart cancer. It will be a huge honour for us to have this unique work of art displayed in our new Centre for Cancer Drug Discovery.”  

Professor Sir Mel Greaves, Founding Director of the Centre for Evolution and Cancer in the Centre for Cancer Drug Discovery 


Help us finish cancer

This unique pipette painting will be displayed permanently in our Centre for Cancer Drug Discovery, where scientists will pass it every day as they work on discovering new drugs that can finish cancer.

The Centre is about to be officially opened, but we still need your support to equip the building so that our scientists can start their urgent work in finishing cancer. Please donate today and let’s finish cancer together.

Help fund exciting programme of research in our new Centre

Our researchers have now moved in to the Centre for Cancer Drug Discovery to start their urgent work on creating more and better drugs for cancer patients.