#Quilts4Cancer: Quilting the chemical sciences for pancreatic cancer patients

A new guest post this week from Dr Kirsty Ross, based at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, highlighting the role of quilt-making in public engagement activities:

Hello everyone!

My name is Dr Kirsty Ross and I am a public engagement professional or PEP. “What on earth is a public engagement professional?!” I hear you ask. We are a growing group of people within higher education institutions who support researchers in their efforts to engage with those outwith our ivory towers. E.g. by offering training or by offering platform opportunities to make it easier to engage the public with their research. We often have a background in research ourselves but perhaps found we enjoyed communicating research rather more than doing it ourselves! To find out more, I highly recommend checking out the work of the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE).

For those in this network, this type of activity will be second nature and part of your professional practice. However, for those in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects, engaging the public is a lot more challenging. This is where PEPs come in; we can bridge that gap and identify opportunities for our researchers to share their research with others.

I’d like to share the story of an ongoing project that I am currently working on: Quilts 4 Cancer.

Facebook profile picture for the Quilts 4 Cancer project. ©Dr Kirsty Ross, University of Strathclyde.

The Quilts 4 Cancer project emerged from a conversation between myself, a keen quilter, and Dr Clare Hoskins (she/her), a Reader in the Department of Pure & Applied Chemistry at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. Dr Hoskins’s work aims to produce new nanomedicines to improve treatment of pancreatic cancer. 

The aim of the Quilts 4 Cancer project is to create science inspired quilts for donation to patients living with pancreatic cancer to help keep them warm as they undergo treatment for their illness. We asked researchers from universities across the UK and Ireland to provide scientific inspiration for patterns that could be turned into quilt blocks by avid quilters. Each pattern was then adapted to include information about the warning signs for pancreatic cancer, which is a disease that is rarely caught at its earliest and most treatable stage. These downloadable block inspirations would then be turned into quilts. We also hoped to be able to share the quilts via in person exhibitions before their donation to patients. 

A work in progress. © Hilary Hoskins Hoskins.

So far, eight researchers (from Strathclyde, Keele, Ulster, Glasgow and Robert Gordon University and ClinSpec Ltd) have donated 15 different patterns, alongside permission from the Royal Society of Chemistry and the charity Purple Rainbow to use their logos. We decided to release a pattern inspiration a day throughout November as part of Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month as well as holding online Zoom information sessions. We’ve sent out fabric packs, sufficient for 50 blocks, to library services in Perth and Kinross, as part of the Fun Palaces Scotland weekend. We have also been delighted to receive 3 quilts so far, with at least 2 more in production. Fingers crossed we get a few more in before the end of the funding in June 2021!

Completed quilt by Hilary Hoskins. © Dr Clare Hoskins, University of Strathclyde

We are very grateful to receive financial support for the project from the Royal Society for Chemistry Outreach Fundand the Chemistry Clinic at the University of Strathclyde supported us by creating infographics to use on social media. 

Stark statistics associated with pancreatic cancer in the UK. © Chemistry Clinic, University of Strathclyde
Treatment statistics associated with pancreatic cancer in the UK. © Chemistry Clinic, University of Strathclyde

This has been very much an experiment in public engagement with research for Dr Hoskins and I! We weren’t sure how many researchers would want to be involved, or how many quilters would download the resources, or how many quilts we would receive. We’ve decided to keep our goals quite modest to give us the best chance of meeting our targets! The call for quilters is still wide open (and hopefully the Christmas crafting rush is now over) so more information and the patterns can be found via our Facebook page and on Instagram. We also hope to hold regular quilt-a-long get togethers on a monthly basis as well; these will be advertised as events on our Facebook page. We are also happy to drop in to any meetings you may be hosting to introduce the researchers involved so you can ask them all your questions! Please do get in contact if you have any questions, or want to collaborate on an event together, or need us to send you materials to allow you to become involved.

Image of our quilt labels, available free to anyone who creates a quilt for the project. © Dr Kirsty Ross, University of Strathclyde.
Completed quilt by Hilary Hoskins. (C) Dr Clare Hoskins, University of Strathclyde

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