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Bridging science and creativity: a reflective session on liver health

Collage of liver art workshop participants holding their artwork

Research theme

Inflammatory liver disease

People involved

Professor Shishir Shetty

Inflammatory Liver Disease Theme Lead

Back in February, researchers from the NIHR Birmingham Biomedical Research Centre (BRC)’s Inflammatory Liver Disease theme hosted a unique event that brought together liver disease patients, researchers, charity partners, and the creative spark of an artist in residence. The event, part of our ongoing commitment to involving and engaging patients and the public in our work, aimed to foster a deeper understanding of liver health, disease, and cancer through the lens of art.

The session began with a brief introduction by our researchers who provided insights into the latest advancements in liver disease research, and more specifically about their work looking at boosting the efficacy of immunotherapy to eradicate primary liver cancer. This set the stage for an immersive art session, guided by artist in residence Dr Felicity Inkpen, where participants were encouraged to express their journey, struggles, and hopes on canvas.

Patients and researchers alike delved into the creative process, using brushes and colours to depict their personal and scientific perspectives on liver health. The result was a vivid tapestry of experiences and discoveries that highlighted the human side of medical research.

Professor Shishir Shetty, Professor in Liver Tumour Immunology at the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Immunology and Immunotherapy, Cancer Research UK Advanced Clinician Scientist and co-lead of the BRC’s Inflammatory Liver Disease theme, said:

“This event truly highlighted the importance of public involvement in medical research. By engaging directly with those affected by liver diseases and fostering a collaborative environment, we can gain invaluable insights that drive patient-centred advancements. Together, we can create a future where science not only heals but also connects and inspires.”

Artist in residence Dr Felicity Inkpen added: “What I’ve really loved about this project is how integral the patient experiences have been for our researchers. Through moving your hands, with the motor action of making marks and doing drawings, you can free up new ways of thinking and new paths of conversation. And it’s a leveller.”

Patient representative Samantha commented: “I’m so grateful to the medics and the Queen Elizabeth hospital that I’ve engaged in patient involvement work. It’s a great experience and it’s nice to be able to just let your thoughts flow onto the paper.”

This event was part of a seedcorn project led by Professor Shetty and funded by the University of Birmingham’s Centre for Systems Modelling and Quantitative Biomedicine. This interdisciplinary study is combining new microscopic imaging techniques with complex mathematical analysis to investigate how endothelial cells affect the immune response to Hepatocellular cancer (HCC). These results will identify targets on blood vessels for development as new treatments for HCC.