Health

'Fashioning Cancer'

Published 12:07 PM ET, Wed March 19, 2014
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A University of British Columbia professor designed and created 10 dresses inspired by microscopic lab photos of cancer cells and other body systems for a project called "Fashioning Cancer: The Correlation between Destruction and Beauty." Designer Jacqueline Firkins, an assistant professor in the university's Department of Theatre and Film, says she hopes this merger of fashion with science will help create a platform where people feel comfortable discussing "a disease we are all one step removed from." Tim Matheson/University of British Columbia
In this microscopic view, cancer cells of a brain tumor (red) metastasize, invading normal brain tissue (blue and green). The cellular images that inspired the fashions come from the lab of University of British Columbia scientist Christian Naus. Wun Chey Sin, Christian Naus/University of British Columbia
Eva Tavares, an opera undergraduate, models the evening gown embodiment of a brain tumor. The black faille halter dress is made from shredded blue and pink vintage silk saris applied to a full, floor-length skirt of sparkling organza, supported by a voluminous tulle underskirt. Tim Matheson/University of British Columbia
Astrocytes, or glial cells in the brain, grow in a culture dish. The blue areas are nuclei that contain DNA, while the green areas are gap junctions -- tubes that connect and allow adjacent cells to communicate. Gap junctions help regulate normal cell growth; interference in these communication channels can lead to cancer development. Hoa Le, Christian Naus/University of British Columbia
Bronwyn Malloy, a University of British Columbia alumna and master's student at McGill University, models a green silk charmeuse dress inspired by astrocytes. On the microscopic slide, the blue circles are cells. On the dress, they appear as beautiful rosettes, according to Firkins. Tim Matheson/University of British Columbia
This slide shows an injured brain filled with dying neurons (stained green). During cancer progression, cancerous cells kill nearby healthy cells so they can keep growing and spreading. Moises Freitas-Andrade, Christian Naus/University of British Columbia
Rebecca Burks, a University of British Columbia theater production and design undergraduate, models a black silk taffeta dress designed to look like an injured brain. "There's an alternative to the pink ribbon, the yellow bracelet, the mustache -- we tend to have a branding relationship with fashion imagery and cancer," Firkins says of her project. "It's like a bullet point -- terse and tight and almost cute. Finding something that isn't that language can generate conversation." Tim Matheson/University of British Columbia
Astrocytes in the brain work to keep neurons healthy. Green dye outlines the cells' cytoskeleton, while the red dye highlights specific membrane channels. The blue dye shows the cell nuclei. Watching the structural changes that cells undergo help scientists better understand cancer. John Bechberger, Christian Naus/University of British Columbia
Mercedes de la Zerda, a University of British Columbia acting student, models a black organza cap sleeve dress with a sheer top and diagonal multicolor organza trim. With this dress, Firkins says she hoped to express that cancer patients and survivors may want to hide parts of their body and showcase others. "You can see through one layer into another. You can show your skin but hide it in another way," she says. Tim Matheson/University of British Columbia
A brain tumor, represented by the black area, grows in a culture dish. During metastasis, cancer cells break away from the primary tumor to spread to other areas of the brain and into the body either through the bloodstream or lymphatic system. Wun Chey Sin, Christian Naus/University of British Columbia
Acting student Helena Fisher-Welsh wears a fashion version of a brain tumor -- a gray organza dress with black trim. Designer Firkins says this project has been a double journey for her. "One is grappling with cancer and the stories of survival and struggle and resilience and the need for beauty when you're dealing with mortality," she says, "but at the same time discovering what art can do in relation with science." Tim Matheson/University of British Columbia
Brain cancer cells show the interaction, represented by yellow areas, between gap junctions (green) and cell growth factor (red). The interactions between these two proteins play a critical role in transforming normal cells into cancerous ones. Christian Naus, Christine Fu/University of British Columbia
Acting student Katherine McLaughlin models a satin halter dress with a feather underskirt, purple rosettes and shredded bias streamers that depict the cancerous interactions. Firkins says she first wanted to inspire dialogue about cancer, but she eventually hopes to auction the dresses and photos to raise money for research. Tim Matheson/University of British Columbia
When they are cancerous, astrocytes from the brain become gliomas. These cells are stained to show off their cytoskeleton, which determines the cells' shape and affects their ability to move. More movement among cancerous cells indicates a more destructive form of cancer. John Bechberger, Christian Naus/University of British Columbia
Chelsi Walsh, a University of British Columbia opera student, models a full-length strapless red silk taffeta dress inspired by the red-stained astrocytes. With this collection, Firkins says she wanted to look at cancer with a sense of optimism and celebration. "The women I know that have been through cancer are some of the strongest, most inspiring women I know," she says. "They celebrate life, so I wanted to create something that reflects what they've come through with." Tim Matheson/University of British Columbia