Exhibition highlights hope and human spirit of patient research 

04/05/2012 00:00 

An extraordinary exhibition of photographs opens this month to shine a light on the world of clinical research.

The provocative exhibition in the Street Gallery of University College Hospital takes a rare view of the discipline through the eyes of patients and researchers. The photographs capture the unique relationship between patient and doctor and the hope and human spirit wrapped up in research projects.

The Gathering Light exhibition, which runs from 4 May to 27 June, is the result of a  ground-breaking project in which patients and clinical researchers worked together with award-winning photographer Clare Park to explore their feelings about clinical research.

NATURE’S GRACE  photograph by Clare Park© | text by John Gebbels/patient

NATURE’S GRACE  photograph by Clare Park© | text by John Gebbels/patient

‘It is no surprise that my experiences of clinical isolation, gruelling treatments and unfamiliar environments drew me towards the appeal of the natural world. Visions of hazy sunsets, bluebell woods and rolling countryside inspired feelings of wellbeing, innocence and childhood which formed the foundations of my much practiced ‘escapism by imagination.’

It covers some of the most cutting edge areas including the development of gene therapy for patients with blood cancers and the study of the effect of exercise and extreme conditions on the body.

Clare Park, who won the Royal Photographic Society’s 153rd International Print Exhibition and is renowned for her work with theatre and dance companies, previously worked with a UCLH patient and his family to explore the impact of Parkinson’s disease.1

Clare works with five clinical researchers and their patients to explore their response to the exciting but challenging journey in clinical research. The focus is on ‘translational research’ where researchers work to transform scientific discoveries into new treatments that have a direct effect on patient care.

Some scientific discoveries can be used to help us understand better how the body works and how we can help it when it is under stress. Other breakthroughs help us to better diagnose or treat disease.

DIVING FROM REALITY  photograph by Clare Park© | text by John Gebbels/patient

DIVING FROM REALITY  photograph by Clare Park© | text by John Gebbels/patient

‘The pleasure of weightless submersion once felt like an impossible dream. I have long craved the quiet, calm escapism of the swimming pool and now it appears to be an imminent possibility.’

Translational research is often described as research that takes us ‘from bench to bedside’.  It is very much like a journey from basic science in the laboratory to the ultimate purpose of research - patient treatments.  For some patients getting involved in research can be a way of finding hope and purpose. For others it is a way of helping future generations. For researchers the process can be perplexing, exciting or sometimes even gruelling.

Clinical researcher and haematology consultant, Emma Morris said: “The challenge of this project has been to convey in pictures the unique relationship between a patient and their doctor, when both are involved in medical research. 

“In some circumstances, patients volunteer to take part in studies where the potential benefit to them individually is unknown. It is an extraordinary example of unselfishness, generosity, hope and human spirit. The perseverance, determination and vision of the researcher is more than met by their partner in discovery. We are totally dependent on each other. Clare's thought-provoking photos have brought this into focus. Literally.”

HELPING HANDS photograph by Clare Park© HELPING HANDS photograph by Clare Park©

‘Scientific research is for patient benefit and it condenses into a relationship and trust between patient and doctor. We are completely dependent on each other.’ Dr Emma Morris

‘In the early stages of treatment the role of consultant begins as source of information. As the intensity of care evolves and increases, amongst so many other important facets, a consultant can quickly become your confidante and counsellor.’ John Gebbels/patient

Patient John Gebbels said: “My involvement with this project has served as an important insight into what doctors do 'behind the scenes', the extent of which may remain invisible to many other patients. The level of dedication which these doctors commit to their research is quite exceptional. Without this my two complicated stem cell transplants and various associated treatments may not have been possible.” 

University College Hospital is one of seven which make up University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (UCLH). UCLH works closely with its sister organisation UCL and together they are a world leader in translational research. At any one time over 1,000 studies are taking place at UCLH/UCL and each year several thousand patients volunteer to take part in research.

LEAVING IMPRESSIONS photograph by Clare Park© | text by Dr Shonit Punwani
LEAVING IMPRESSIONS photograph by Clare Park© | text by Dr Shonit Punwani

‘The scanner serves people of all ages and a range of disease types. Participants in radiological trials undergo additional MRI scans which are then analysed by radiologists to help develop imaging methods to characterise disease and allow more tailor-made treatments for patients.’


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