g-lands: an out-of-body experience

A Sci-Art collaboration between Dr Elaine Emmerson and Emily Fong, Artist in Residence at the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine (CRM,) in partnership with ASCUS Art and Science and a multitude of healthcare professionals from NHS Lothian and Greater Glasgow and Clyde.  

This project is proudly supported by The Throat Cancer Foundation and the RCSE Surgeons’ Hall Museums with funding from the UK Regenerative Medicine Platform (UKRMP) and the MRC Centre for Regenerative medicine (CRM).

Osiris under fluorescence microscope: Emmerson Lab CRM

Background

Despite being a lifesaving treatment for patients with head and neck cancer, a side-effect of radiotherapy is damage to salivary glands, leading to the chronic condition Xerostomia, or dry mouth. This can severely affect a patient’s quality of life, with existing treatments concentrating only on short-term relief of such side-effects. The work of Dr Elaine Emmerson aims to develop a regenerative strategy to restore salivary function.

Whilst viewing a salivary gland in the Emmerson Lab at CRM, artist Emily Fong raised questions about the patient now living without it. How incredible it is that a surgeon, scientist, artist or member of the public can engage with someone else’s body part.

About the Project 

Emily Fong will observe the journey taken by the salivary gland, from the time it is removed from the patient through to the research taking place in Dr. Elaine Emmerson’s laboratory. She will meet with patients, surgeons, oncologists, pathologists and research scientists, capturing the different perspectives of those who interact with salivary gland. These interactions and observations will be documented through drawing and sculpture.

 

Thursday
Oct172019

Osiris has no wi-fi signal in the G-Lands 

Our omnipresent salivary gland specimen can be found here in this landscape of experimentation, deconstructed on a cellular level on the lab bench like a little cell smoothie. Thus far, what the Emmerson Lab is sure of is that Osiris contains stem cells, unspecialised cells that can develop into functional mature cells following injury, and that the salivary gland is surrounded by nerves that provide signals to these stem cells. However, following radiotherapy these signals are lost. It is almost as if in this afterlife Osiris is stuck between now and Pharaonic times where there is definitely no wi-fi signal to tell them it is dinner time and would you please kindly release some saliva? What is this relationship between nerves and stem cells and how might it be mimicked in the now, the G-Lands, to regenerate communication and flow of saliva through Osiris? What Osiris needs is more than thoughts and prayers; they need scientific allies like Dr Elaine Emmerson and her team. Perhaps on some level Osiris and Elaine have always been travelling together and they are the ones who have conjured me to remind them both in this life. Who needs wi-fi when you have your own experts in the field to re-build the burnt bridges? 

Emmerson Lab Landscape CRMThank you for reading,

Emily

 

You can contact/find me at:

emilyfongstudio@gmail.com

@emilyfongstudio 

  • To get hands on and creative with the tools of science, you can drop into an open session at the ASCUS Lab at Summerhall in Edinburgh, Scotland’s publically accessible laboratory. You can find out about their many courses and opportunities here http://www.ascus.org.uk

 

Thursday
Oct102019

The body as a container

For one moment let us consider the space the body occupies. Imagine a single line drawn around the shape of yourself. Your body protected by your skin, your outer membrane, is your container. This container is unique in shape and full of well organised bones, blood, cells, nerves, knowledge, experience, emotion and much more. It is so clever; top machinery in fact. It self-regulates with little conscious input and contacts us with the language of discomfort or pain to signal if it is in distress. I am interested in the body as a way of reminding myself that I am human, just like you. We see the world differently and it is precisely this difference in perspective and experience that we will explore together in the G-Lands. 

Below, Osiris our salivary gland specimen has no body. They are currently occupying a new container, refrigerated in the Emmerson Lab, waiting quietly for the next experiment. Osiris must have seen some things and encountered some characters as they migrated through the G-Lands, from body to fridge. Let's take a moment consider the shape of Osiris' absence inside the patient now living without it. 

Thank you for reading.

Emily

Osiris in the Emmerson Lab fridge : CRM

You can contact/find me at:

emilyfongstudio@gmail.com

@emilyfongstudio 

  • To get hands on and creative with the tools of science, you can drop into an open session at the ASCUS Lab at Summerhall in Edinburgh, Scotland’s publically accessible laboratory. You can find out about their many courses and opportunities here http://www.ascus.org.uk
Thursday
Sep262019

Role of the artist in the laboratory/ hospital

As witness and visual reporter  

Throat cancer and its off-target side effects of radiotherapy and surgical treatment is the reason Dr. Elaine Emmerson and her team at The MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine (CRM) work towards finding ways to regenerate the salivary glands. Life with little or no saliva is devastating for patients and survivors of throat cancer. 

You might be wondering what art or artists have to do with any of this.

I used to say that if I was to have a super power it would be that I could stop time so I could draw anything, anytime, anywhere. Life moves so fast and sometimes walls, both physical and emotional, are so thick that what is beyond can be difficult to access. As an artist, however, I have learned that it is possible to identify walls and indeed make them transparent though drawing, by firstly seeking consent, secondly being brave enough to just draw and most importantly (in my opinion) to share. 

My sketchbook is with me all of the time: it may as well be surgically attached. I will carry it with me through this whole experience and should you encounter me in person and wish to see inside I will always say yes. The purpose of this blog is for you to have an open view right beside me as I see what I see. Together we will observe from both a critical distance and an intimate closeness, all of the planets/micro environments that revolve around the salivary gland; Planet Patient, Planet Pathology, Planet Surgery, Planet Oncology, Planet Science and last but not least, Planet Art. 

Neck Lump Clinic chair with Osiris floating in space, Lauriston Building, EdinburghThe drawing I’ve chosen this week is from inside the Neck Lump Clinic in the Lauriston Building, Edinburgh. This might arguably be the beginning of the journey for Osiris the salivary gland specimen, siting in this chair as our ENT (Ear Nose and Throat) surgeon examines the patient for the first time. This chair, drawn unoccupied could be filled by you, by me, or indeed by someone that we love. 

On this one particular day I witnessed 13 people occupy the same chair in the center of the room. Each individual presenting themselves with a lump of some sort to be examined and tested further with ultrasound and biopsy if the need presented. All the while, Osiris our salivary gland, swiveled patiently in the chair wondering what might lie ahead. In most cases the outcome was very positive but for some not so good: cancer was present. The next stage being further tests and a treatment plan devised by a multi-disciplinary team of healthcare professionals.

As an artist in this space and the spaces to come, I am acutely aware of what a privilege it is to bear witness to this vulnerability. 

Join me, the artist, as I witness, read and translate this journey with curiosity, care and openness. 

 

Thank you for reading.

Emily 

You can contact/find me at:

emilyfongstudio@gmail.com

@emilyfongstudio 

  • To get hands on and creative with the tools of science, you can drop into an open session at the ASCUS Lab at Summerhall in Edinburgh, Scotland’s publically accessible laboratory. You can find out about their many courses and opportunities here http://www.ascus.org.uk
Tuesday
Sep172019

Welcome to G-Lands 

Pipette Creature : Emmerson Lab Day 1And so the out-of-body experience begins! As an artist in a scientific laboratory I am like a creature from another planet, an everyday explorer in an exciting new landscape. The language is curiously coded and the equipment spins and shakes like a dance routine on a strange theatrical stage. As I look around I cannot help but marvel at how I arrived here: I’ve found a team of scientists to be my guides on this exploration inside the body. We are encountering the structures of life itself and I’m keen to share these experiences with you.

For the past few months I have been observing and drawing inside a research laboratory, getting up close and personal with the salivary gland. Yes, those special little glands that we never see but are so important for our daily routines of talking, chewing, swallowing, sleeping, and sharing all sorts of social events and intimate moments with our friends and loved ones, like sharing a meal or making love. 

Have you ever thought about the possibility of life without saliva?

I certainly had not until I met Dr Elaine Emmerson, an expert research scientist and team leader at the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine in Edinburgh’s Bio Quarter. Despite being a lifesaving treatment for patients with head and neck cancer, a side-effect of radiotherapy is damage to salivary glands, leading to the chronic condition Xerostomia (dry mouth.) This can severely affect a patient’s quality of life, with existing treatments concentrating only on short-term relief. The work of Dr Elaine Emmerson aims to develop a regenerative strategy to restore salivary function. When Elaine first told me about her lab and their research into the regeneration of the salivary gland, my mouth went dry and my palms became very sweaty thinking about all of the head and neck cancer survivors who were now walking around with little to no saliva. How is this possible? What is this like? And why didn’t I know about it? 

On my first day in the lab I was shown a little sample of human salivary gland tissue in a container (pictured below) and I just couldn’t believe it! I promptly asked if the owner of this gland was alive, a very important piece of information I felt, the answer was yes. How incredible that I, as an artist, or potentially you as a member of the public, could engage with someone else’s body part!? How did it get here? What is life like for the person now walking around without it? Other than the scientists, who else encountered the gland specimen on its journey to arrive in the lab? 

First sighting of Osiris the salivary gland : Emmerson Lab CRMIn order to ask these important questions I feel from here on in we should formally introduce you to the salivary gland. During Pharaonic times, Osiris was the Egyptian god of the afterlife, inundation and re-birth. On this journey we aren’t mapping the flooding of the Nile but the Emmerson Lab at CRM certainly aims to re-flood the mouth, returning salivary function to the many glands living in drought. And so, we have conjured Osiris, our protagonist, our salivary gland, who lives in the G-lands, located everywhere and nowhere all at once. Osiris is your gland and mine. Will you join us on this out-of-body experience?

Together we will witness and observe the journey taken by Osiris, from the time they are removed from the patient, through to the research taking place in Dr. Elaine Emmerson’s laboratory. Osiris and I will meet with patients, surgeons, oncologists, pathologists, research scientists and museum collections, capturing the different scales and perspectives of those who interact with the salivary gland. These interactions and observations will be documented through dialogue, drawing and sculpture. I’ll be sharing this process openly with you, right here and through an exhibition, a publication and a creative learning program in Scotland from 2020 onwards. 

You can be involved initially by interacting with this blog, asking questions of myself, the team of scientists, healthcare professionals and patients, which we will seek to answer. Further down the line you will be able to get involved in various opportunities including talks/panel discussions, exhibitions and hands-on art-science workshops at the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine (CRM) and ASCUS Lab at Summmerhall, Edinburgh. 

Thank you for reading,

Emily

emilyfongstudio@gmail.com

@emilyfongstudio 

  • To get hands on and creative with the tools of science, you can drop into an open session at the ASCUS Lab at Summerhall in Edinburgh, Scotland’s publically accessible laboratory. You can find out about their many courses and opportunities here http://www.ascus.org.uk