‘Illuminating the Self’ is a thrilling new exhibition featuring artist’s reactions to the CANDO research project. The exhibition opens on Saturday 18th January at the Hatton Gallery and Vane Gallery, both in Newcastle upon Tyne.

The CANDO project involves a team of over 30 neuroscientists, engineers and clinicians based at Newcastle University, Imperial College London, University College London and The Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. Led by Professor Andrew Jackson and Professor Anthony O’Neill, CANDO proposes an alternative treatment to epilepsy, using a small implant to modulate abnormal activity to prevent seizure development.

CANDO is keen to engage with the public and the epilepsy community to ensure that it meets the needs of people with epilepsy. To facilitate this, they have collaborated with renowned artists Susan Aldworth and Andrew Carnie to create a remarkable exhibition, ‘Illuminating the Self’, demonstrating their artistic response to the project. The exhibitions aim to stimulate discussion and understanding of epilepsy and the use of technology within the brain.

The project is highly interdisciplinary, involving engineers, scientists and clinicians, as well as an advisory group of people affected by epilepsy. It’s challenging but also extremely satisfying to work together and attempt something that initially sounds like science-fiction, but could have real benefits in future.
Professor Andrew Jackson

‘Blue Matter’ – Andrew Carnie

ERUK caught up with project lead Professor Andrew Jackson ahead of the launch to discuss this unique event.

How would you describe the CANDO project and how did you identify the need to explore this area of research?

The CANDO project is developing a combined gene therapy and optoelectronic implant for the treatment of focal epilepsy. As you know, treatment options for drug-resistant epilepsy are limited. While surgery can be effective, there are many areas of the brain that cannot be safely resected. We want instead to develop an implant that can control patterns of brain activity within and around the focus, supressing seizure activity and preventing it from spreading. While some existing devices attempt to do this using electrical stimulation, the new technique of optogenetics promises control of brain circuits with much greater precision.

‘Out of the Blue’ – Susan Aldworth

‘Crack of Light’ – Andrew Carnie

What is the most exciting or interesting part of being involved in CANDO?

The project is highly interdisciplinary, involving engineers, scientists and clinicians, as well as an advisory group of people affected by epilepsy. It’s challenging but also extremely satisfying to work together and attempt something that initially sounds like science-fiction, but could have real benefits in future. I also feel that it is important to try to translate our growing scientific understanding of the brain into better therapies. The promise of optogenetics, unlike drugs, is to deliver therapy in the right place, at the right time, to the right brain cells. This could open the door to new treatments for many neurological conditions, so it’s exciting to be involved in a project aiming to advance this field.

What are your intended goals for the ‘Illuminating the Self’ exhibition?

‘Illuminating the Self’ has been supported by a public engagement grant from Wellcome, who fund the research together with EPSRC, and has two broad goals. First, we want to help provide a voice for those who experience epilepsy. For example, Susan Aldworth has collected testimonials from people around the country, and these form an integral part of her new installation for the exhibition. Second, we wanted to explore societal issues around the use of emerging technologies like gene therapies and implants in the brain. As scientific and engineering progress advances, what are the benefits and risks of manipulating brain function and how should we safeguard ourselves in the bioengineered future? Andrew Carnie’s art explores what we mean by the self, through notions of hybridity in biology and medicine. Both artists have spent time interacting with the CANDO team, and produced an astonishing range of artworks that reflect and examine the scientific and clinical ambitions of the project.

‘Illuminating the Self’ opens from Saturday 18th May to Saturday 9th May at the Hatton Gallery and Vane Gallery, Newcastle Upon Tyne. To find out more about the CANDO research project and Illuminating the Self visit their website here.