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Lab coats become canvases to tell cancer patients’ stories

Our pioneering work has inspired leading textile artist Rosalind Wyatt to transform three of our scientists' lab coats, into powerful works of wearable art. 

Adorned with intricately hand-stitched handwriting and illustrations from children and adults with rare and hard-to-treat cancers, these unique artworks are a symbol of our goal to discover smarter and kinder treatments for cancer patients and to finish all cancers, including cancers of unmet need.

We urgently need your support to help us invest in the research vitally needed to improve outcomes for patients with these types of cancers, which are harder to treat and survive.

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I hope that by hand stitching the words of patients and their families onto the lab coats they can become part of the legacy of the great work that the ICR is doing.” – Rosalind Wyatt

Powerful works of art

Three unique works of ‘wearable art’ created using the lab coats of our scientists, have been unveiled today. Leading British textile artist Rosalind Wyatt transformed our lab coats into powerful and moving artworks emblazoned with intricately hand-stitched words and drawings provided by patients and their families with rare and hard-to-treat cancers.

Rosalind is a leading British textile artist whose work ‘The Stitch Lives of London’ notably saw her stitch a school essay written by Stephen Lawrence onto a running top belonging to the teenager whose life was tragically cut short.

Her artworks symbolise our determination and unwavering commitment to find smarter and kinder treatments for cancer patients and to highlight the urgent need to find new treatments for cancers of unmet need. 

A canvas for their stories

Several patients living with cancers of unmet need and families who have lost children to these cancers contributed personal letters, poems, illustrations and recollections about their cancer experiences to Rosalind Wyatt.

Rosalind used a ‘writing with a needle’ technique to meticulously to recreate the patients’ handwriting using a needle and thread, stitching them onto the lab coats alongside colourful decorative elements. Among the 11 patients with cancers of unmet need whose contributions have inspired the artworks are:

  • Laura Nuttall, who was diagnosed with brain cancer when she was 18 years old and given just 12 months to live. Thanks to innovative immunotherapy treatment, two and a half years after her diagnosis, Laura is responding well. Laura’s story recently received national attention thanks to Peter Kay, who returned to stand-up comedy after several years and performed fundraising gigs in her honour
  • Blaise Nelson, who was diagnosed with brain cancer at the age of six after a ‘satsuma-sized growth’. He underwent major surgery, chemotherapy and several rounds of radiotherapy but, very sadly, died at the age of seven. A painting that Blaise made on his last day at school has been recreated across the back of one of the lab coat pieces by Rosalind Wyatt.
  • 70-year-old Doreen McGinley, who was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in 2016 after visiting her GP about a persistent cough. Doreen contributed a few handwritten lines about her experience of living with cancer.

Close up of a patient's quote stitched on one of the lab coats with orange thread

Speaking about her creations, Rosalind Wyatt said:

“The plain appearance of a lab coat represents to me the white piece of paper. It’s a blank canvas upon which to tell the stories of real people. People whose lives have been affected or sadly cut short by cancers of unmet need. Being entrusted to tell those stories through needle and thread comes with a huge responsibility, because those words are the voices of the patients. I’m delighted that these artworks will be seen by the ICR’s scientists on a daily basis and I hope that by hand stitching the words of patients and their families onto the lab coats they can become part of the legacy of the great work that the ICR is doing.”

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Taking on cancers of unmet need

Among the 200 types of cancer, some are of especially high unmet need either because they are rare or hard-to-treat – including adult and childhood cancers such as brain, lung, pancreatic cancers and sarcomas.

Rare cancers tend to get less research funding than more common types, despite the fact that they collectively make up one in five (22%) of all cancer diagnoses. A third of these patients will be diagnosed with an exceedingly rare cancer type, and so may have only limited treatment options.

There are also other cancers of unmet need where there has been little advance in treatment over the decades because of the more complex, hard-to-treat nature of these cancers and insufficient research funding.

Improving patient outcomes through new research is one of our key priorities, with a focus on better understanding the cause and biology of cancers of unmet need, discovering new therapies to tackle them and running clinical trials for potential ways to treat them.

Scientists Paul Huang, Chris Jones and Valeriya Pankova posing in the lab wearing the stitched labcoatsTo unveil the artworks, Valeriya Pankova, Dr Paul Huang and Professor Chris Jones wore the unique lab coats in their labs.

Among our scientists focusing on cancers of unmet need are Dr Paul Huang, who leads a team dedicated to taking on the challenges of lung cancer and sarcomas, and Professor Chris Jones, whose research aims to find the genes that cause childhood brain tumours.

Commenting on the artworks, Dr Paul Huang, Leader of the Molecular and Systems Oncology Team said:

“To see our lab coats used as artistic canvases on which the words and experiences of patients have been so powerfully expressed is inspiring and it has been an honour to unveil them. These pieces symbolise how the patients are always at the forefront of our minds and the driving force behind our research. Even with incredibly challenging and biologically complex cancers of unmet need like sarcomas, every ICR researcher rises to the challenge every day in order to discover the treatments that will truly change patients’ lives.”

Professor Chris Jones, Leader of the Glioma Team, added:

“Our science exists at the meeting point between technical skill and creativity. Alongside the precision and skill of lab work we’re always required to think outside of the box and find innovative, imaginative solutions to the challenges of finishing cancer, especially for cancers of urgent unmet need like childhood brain tumours. I see many parallels in these lab coat artworks, which realise Rosalind’s creative vision through incredibly precise needlework.”

Help us finish cancer

To unveil the artworks, Professor Chris Jones, Dr Paul Huang and their teams, wore the unique lab coats in their labs, before they are put on permanent display in our buildings.

Patients with cancers of unmet urgently need new treatment options. As a charity, your support is vital in helping us open up fresh avenues for research and treatment for these patients.

Please donate today and let’s finish cancer together.

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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.