Digital art trail explores decisions about organ and tissue donation


Northumbria University research exploring public perceptions of organ, tissue and body data has been turned into an augmented reality art journey in Newcastle.

Led by designer and principal investigator, Dr Stacey Pitsillides, in collaboration with the body> data> space interaction design collective, the Donate Yourself project aims to take members of the public on a journey using sound and visuals 3D to spark debate on the important role the human body plays in scientific discovery.

Although it is an emotional subject, becoming an organ donor can have a lasting impact, either by saving the lives of others or by supporting medical research to find cures for diseases.

From May 2020, England switched to an organ donation opt-out system, bringing the decision closer to socially normalized practice. However, body donation, or tissue donation after death for education, scientific and medical research, has been less widely discussed in public forums.

Dr Pitsillides, who works at the Northumbria School of Design, began the Wellcome Trust-funded research with medical sociologist Dr Holly Standing and research assistant Luke Sellers. The book was commissioned by One cell at a time, a public engagement project inspired by the Human Cell Atlas research initiative and the team conducted interviews and workshops with scientists, medical students, a data researcher and members of the public to understand the impact organ and tissue donation can have.

The opinions gathered will be communicated to visitors to the Ouseburn Valley, who will be guided along a walking route by Donate Yourself signs or banners with QR codes.

Once the QR codes are scanned with a mobile phone, augmented reality digital objects showing cells and organs in body tissues will appear against the backdrop of buildings along the route. Audio stories derived from the project’s research will be played with bespoke soundtracks alongside each digital artwork, exploring themes of caring, trust, immortality, consent and the future. that emerged during the project.

The digital works encountered were co-created by Dr Pitsillides with body> data> space, an interaction design collective.

“The purpose of this commission is to explore the ways in which death can give new meaning. Much of my research focuses on the choices people make about their own death and the reasons behind that, ”explained Dr Pitsillides.

“The concept of giving something back to society after death is increasingly popular, and organ and tissue donation is one way to achieve this. However, we recognize that these are important ideas and often difficult to discuss and therefore the purpose of the artistic journey is to help people explore these concepts in an interactive and educational way.

The Donate Yourself launch event took place on Sunday, October 31. The trail will be available throughout November.

The artistic journey and the larger Donate Yourself project are part of the One cell at a time public engagement initiative with the global Human Cell Atlas research consortium, which aims to create comprehensive reference maps of all human cells. Donate Yourself research projects will also be presented in specific venues in London, Oxford and Cambridge in November. Learn more at

Dr Suzy O’Hara, One cell at a time Project curator said, “The Human Cell Atlas Project is a groundbreaking global research initiative that could transform the lives of all of us. With One cell at a time, we want to connect the audience with the enormity and wonder of it. By creating a place where art and science intersect, we can also encourage a new way of thinking about the human body, our health and our well-being.

Research conducted by academics at the Northumbria School of Design focuses on design with an emphasis on practicing, understanding, and redefining problems to bring positive change in the real world. Many studies are based on long-term collaborations with citizens and communities, and include partnerships with a range of nonprofit, public and business partners.

Notes to Editors

One cell at a time is funded by Wellcome, grant 218597 / Z / 19 / Z, and is led by the Wellcome Sanger Institute, in collaboration with partners in Newcastle, Cambridge, London and Oxford.


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