Tumour Paint

After reading the acclaimed book ‘Do No Harm: Stories of life, death and brain surgery’ by Henry Marsh myself and Rosie found ourselves with a small obsession with both Mr Marsh and brain surgery stories.

Do No Harm is a fascinating journey through a decades-long career of one of Britain’s most eminent neurosurgeons. The book has many virtues. It gives a rarely seen insight into the working life and thoughts of a surgeon (who freely admits to a little bit of a god complex – which he reminds himself to keep in check!), plus if you have an interest in medicine it gives an accessible account of many different types of brain tumours and aneurysms.

Obviously, with this new-found obsession with Mr Marsh we started to do a bit of digging on the internet and Rosie stumbled across a talk he was giving, along with paediatric oncologist Jim Olson. The talk, to be given at the Royal Institution, called ‘Colour and cancer; scorpions and surgery’ was to discuss new research into how to better detect and treat brain tumours. So, along with copywriter Kevin, we went to go hear our new favourite celebrity speak last Tuesday evening.


Just walking into the Royal Institution was enough to make you feel inspired. The building is an incredible one where the walls are covered with images of notable scientists – you just know that discussions which changed the face of science have happened there.

The talk started with Henry Marsh providing some background to his career and gave some of the stories found in his book, including his non-traditional route into medicine. With his charming and oh so very English manner he had the audience caught on his every word and I was a bit worried Rosie would launch herself at him.


When Dr Jim Olson began speaking it was the complete opposite to Mr Marsh. He was exactly what you’d think of as an American doctor, speaking of loving all his patients, becoming part of their families. They were two sides of the doctor coin (although this doesn’t mean Mr Marsh didn’t care for his patients, he’s just much more British about it!).

Then came the showstopper of the evening, Dr Olson presenting his research. The work his lab is doing is at the forefront of more accurately treating a range of cancers and has the potential to change the way medicine is done is this field.

They have discovered ‘tumour paint’, a fluorescent molecule which can attach itself to cancer cells causing tumours to glow under infra-red light.

This molecule comes from the Israeli Deathstalker scorpion. Like all good science the discovery that this molecule could be used in this way was a bit of a coincidence. A different lab was doing a different type of study in glioma cells and the scorpion protein and Dr Olson’s labs were able to see a connection to the work they were doing, so ran with it!

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By having the tumour cells glow it allows surgeons to remove far more of the ‘bulky’ tumour, meaning they will be able to (hopefully) only leave microscopic amounts of tumour which can then be dealt with using chemotherapy and radiotherapy. This means a better chance of the tumour not reoccurring and better survival rates. Aside from the surgical advantages it also allows for more targeted chemotherapy & radiotherapy, as these treatments can be directed at the cancerous cells and avoid the healthy ones.


When the slide changed to one of the serum in a vial the whole room gasped, it looked a bit magical. Ethereal, even. A single vial which glowed bright white.

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Tumour paint is now in a number of clinical trials and Dr Olson’s team are looking for a pharma company to market it (any of our clients reading this?).

Dr Olson ended his talk by showing us pictures of cute little kids – kids who unfortunately weren’t able to be helped by tumour paint but served as a reminder of the types of kids this might be able to help in the future.

Although the focus is currently on certain types of brain tumours and a handle of other cancers (skin, prostate, breast), they’ve also discovered a whole family of these proteins from lots of plants and animals. So, there is the hope that they’ll be able to identify other molecules which will target other cancers and even other brain disorders like Alzheimer’s and Schizophrenia.

We walked out of the talk feeling inspired. Through the whole thing you felt as if you were hearing something that will radically change the way cancers are treated. We were definitely in the presence of greatness.

One comment from Dr Olson stuck with me and strikes me as a great way to approach not only medicine but life as a whole:

Start each day thinking about what you do now that you don’t want to do in 20 years. Then work to solve that problem.

Harriet Cheshire   Account Manager


Vaccine Confidence

Attending the ‘Packed Lunch: Vaccine Confidence’ lecture hosted at the Wellcome Collection was a refreshing OOO (out of office) excursion. It was also an excuse to celebrate World Apple Day as we were each offered a juicy Granny Smith on arrival – some ‘food for thought’.

The host promptly introduced researcher and lecturer  from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine to discuss the Vaccine Confidence Project (VCP), aimed at monitoring the state of vaccine confidence in the 21st century.


Why do we need a VCP?

Pauline expressed that the primary purpose of the VCP is to assess ‘public distrust’ in vaccinations. On a larger scale this project wants to help avoid vaccine programme disruptions, which in the ‘worst case scenario’ have the potential to result in a domino effect of disease outbreaks. The corresponding research paper ‘The state of vaccine confidence’ discusses the issue of low confidence having a negative impact on vaccine coverage. The more we doubt the necessity and efficacy of injections, the less likely we are to vaccinate and due to this we are at risk of shedding a protective layer against certain diseases. This is a phenomenon I had never really considered before and it certainly convinced me of the relevance of the project. The diagram below highlights how vaccinations work to provide us with protection against disease:

image vaccine

So why do people choose not to vaccinate?

Of course, public concerns regarding vaccinations are context specific, differ significantly on a global scale and attitudes vary depending on the different types of accessible vaccinations. But the World Health Organisation (WHO) claims that the main factors relating to people’s ‘vaccine hesitancy’ include ‘misinformation,’ ‘complacency,’ ‘convenience’ and ‘confidence’. Pauline spoke to us about these themes and voiced the most common parental doubts she heard whilst conducting her interviews:

  • “Do we need this vaccine?”
  • “Can we afford it?”
  • “Does it work?”
  • “Is it safe?”

The occurrence of ‘misinformation’ in terms of vaccine safety was a particularly hot topic for Pauline who expressed that ideas can travel rapidly on the internet. It is no surprise that ‘two thirds of anti-vaccine sites are misleading’. According to Medical News Today, 65.6% of anti-vaccine sites claim that vaccines are dangerous, 62.2% that they cause autism and 41.1% that they cause ‘brain injury’. Interestingly, most of these claims used anecdotal evidence and perhaps increasingly we are looking to internet sources for convenient and easily digestible healthcare information. The VCP highlights this gap in communication when it comes to informing people about the benefits of vaccinations and the necessary facts and figures. Why is it that anecdotal stories on the internet or from friends can be so convincing yet the ‘go ahead’ to vaccinate from healthcare professionals appears to be insufficient in persuading us to choose to vaccinate? Margaret Chan general director of WHO comments:

“The days when health officials could issue advice, based on the very best medical and scientific data, and expect populations to comply, may be fading.”

These ‘vaccine hesitancies’ translate into an emerging lack of trust in vaccinations. It seems that it is no longer sufficient for healthcare workers to simply inform us that we need to be vaccinated. We demand to know how necessary it really is and we want to know this in layman terms. It was clear just from sitting in the room that there were several attendees who held strong reservations and posed challenging questions to Pauline about the efficacy, necessity and safety of vaccinations.

I found the session thought provoking and came away with the following reflections:

  • I am now more aware of the positive effect vaccination programmes can have on public health
  • I am however conscious that the session exposed the increasing level of uncertainty, mistrust and lack of information about the benefits and risk of vaccination; an interesting comparison with perhaps 40 years ago
  • Expectations are increasing as the public seek more reassurance and guarantees of the effectiveness and safety of vaccinations; this cannot always be a given
  • There is a need for individuals to take more personal responsibility for informing themselves and making the most appropriate decisions for them and their families
  • There is a significant need for clear, quality information regarding vaccinations, which is easily accessible and well communicated to the general public

Joanna Dorling   Junior Account Executive


halloween blogv2

This menagerie of petrifying Peter Pan-witch-jester-‘Tomato Man’-Powerpuff Girls-fried egg costumes (disappointingly no pizza rat, despite Time Out predicting it to be a Londoner’s favourite guise for Halloween 2015) is of course all in aid of a good cause.
Two good causes in fact – Beating Bowel Cancer and LUPUS UK.
Beating Bowel Cancer 
Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK, with incidence rates increasing by 6% over the last decade. Scary stats, especially when you consider that 2011 saw more than 110 people a day diagnosed with the disease in the UK alone.
Which is why charities such as Beating Bowel Cancer, the support and campaigning charity for everyone affected by the disease, are so important. They’re on a mission to ‘Beat Bowel Cancer Together’, providing vital practical and emotional help – on the phone, digitally and face to face – through the UK’s only nurse-led specialist helpline for bowel cancer, described by some patients as a lifeline.
Their vision of ‘a world where bowel cancer is beaten’ is only achievable with funding for support and campaigning. To find out how you can help, visit https://www.beatingbowelcancer.org/.
Lupus is an incurable immune system illness, able to affect any part of the body. Major organs can be irreversibly damaged and even mild flare ups can be distressing, having a considerable impact on a person’s quality of life.
LUPUS UK is the only national registered charity supporting people with systemic lupus and discoid lupus, also assisting those approaching diagnosis. 
As lupus is a condition that many people are unaware of, LUPUS UK work hard to raise awareness so that others understand everyday life can be a challenge for sufferers. To find out how you too can help them build a world where people with lupus can live full and active lives, visit http://www.lupusuk.org.uk/.

BBC’s James Gallagher visits PLBR

Breaking news: BBC’s James Gallagher

visits PLBR to give low down on making headlines


On Monday the 12th of October a lucky few from across a range of agencies and press offices within the pharmaceuticals and healthcare space braved the lonely darkness of the early morning for a special event.

As we rubbed our weary eyes and revived ourselves over a steaming hot cup of tea in the Admiral room, the atmosphere was buzzing with anticipation.

A celebrity was in our midst.

James Gallagher of the BBC had graced the Publicis offices to give us the inside scoop on life at the BBC’s online health news desk.

He was everything you might expect of a long serving BBC hand, from his inoffensive grey blazer, his neutral tone of voice and his mild mannered charm. He transported us into the life of a health journalist while he revealed the tricks, tips, dos and don’ts for getting your press release featured on the BBC webpages. As you may have guessed, I am the poor soul that must forsake my newly formed brethren and share them with you now:

  • Pitch your story before 09:30am!
  • News is only something that is:
    • a) New (…It’s in the name!)
    • b) Noteworthy – is it interesting, will it mean something to people?
  • You should be able to summarise the point of your press release in one sentence. When you email the press release to the journalist, use this sentence as the subject line
  • Quotes, case studies and sources are like crack to these guys, they add real value to press releases (yes, just like crack does to life)
  • Know who you are pitching to – avoid cringey moments and make sure you know who it is you are emailing, what they do and who they work for
  • It’s all about building relationships, if a journalist knows, and more importantly, likes you, they are much more likely to run your story

The stories on the BBC’s news pages on average, get about 1m hits and health stories average 1/4 million hits, they are as you may say, ‘big in the game’.

So, now that I have risked life and limb to share these trade secrets with you, go forth, and let my legacy live on by making the BBC’s headlines!

Michelle Johal   Account Executive

The Great Office Bake Off

Cakes (and confectionary in general) are not a rare sight in the PLBR/Real Science office. Birthdays, festive periods, post-holidays, or just whenever someone is feeling generous – we can always find an occasion. No day, though, compares to the 25th of September: the day of the Macmillan Coffee Morning.

UK charity Macmillan provides specialist healthcare and support for people with cancer, and each year it organises the ‘World’s Biggest Coffee Morning’ to build awareness and fundraise. The concept, widely celebrated across the country, is simple but effective: bake a cake, enjoy cake with friends/family/colleagues, and donate money for each piece you eat.

This year, all three teams combined baking and eating abilities. As it’s for a good cause, gluttony is encouraged, not frowned upon. And with our brilliant bakers and… consumers, we were sure to succeed. Take a look at our fantastic feast:


By the end of the day, we had raised £165.25 for Macmillan. Surely a great testament to our eating abilities! Well done everyone!

Helen Belben   Senior Account Executive

‘First week done and you’re not fired!’

Truth be told; I felt pretty dam awesome walking to work early in the morning, through the streets of London. I was storming the pavements in my old trusty Doc Marten’s feeling triumphant and purposeful. It’s been rather surreal as I’ve had one month to kill between finding out I’ve got the post in The Creative Lab at Publicis, and starting the actual job. So many a celebration and victory dance has occurred since then but now is the time to knuckle down and prove I am worthy!

Everyone was and continues to be so welcoming and friendly; they have no qualms about receiving questions or queries, regardless of the seemingly obvious answers. I got stuck in straight away with some research into advertising in the healthcare industry. The successful campaigns held a fusion of intellectual communication and emotive aesthetic. My Great Uncle, who has been in the advertising industry for a long time, informed me of the three responses you are looking to meet in any advert; The immediate, emotional response followed by the informed, intellectual response and finally the active response of what we want the audience to do. Emotive, Intellectual and Active- kind of like the ideal process in dating but the one that never happens!

Through out the week I got my brain cells ticking over three creative briefs, all completely different taking into account the audience and the purpose, while learning about medical developments. I’ve been generating ideas, drawing (the industry call it ‘scamping’), playing with Photoshop -(I’m still pretty rubbish so it’s a working progress…)- and writing scripts for animations. I relished the versatility and the opportunity to try things and learn from those around me.

On Wednesday I was treated to lunch with my Line Manager Andy and ‘buddy’ Rosie; I panic-ordered the biggest glass of Merlot I’d ever seen which was quite lovely! We spoke about the Lab and really what I wanted from this process. It is a hard question and I’ve given it a lot of thought over the past month… my final conclusion is pending. I know that I want to learn about the healthcare industry and use word and image to communicate so I’d deduced that I was in the right place! I want to broaden my knowledge of Photoshop and InDesign and experience both the Copy Writer and the Art Direction side of the process. At Publicis Healthcare the offices are open and the roles interlink which is wonderful; In briefing Copy Writers, Art Directors and Account Handlers all join together to create some sort of communicative force field of brief-related thoughts and doodles.

I’ve concluded that the aim of the next six months is to grasp the horns of this opportunity and steer them in the direction of my career prospects, like a goat warrior…

My first Friday finished up with a few beers with the guys sat outside the office, and as I stumbled home slightly tipsy (-tipsy enough to do South Park impressions…-) I thought the last five days had been an insightful warm up of things to come. Or as Andy put it ‘first week done and you’re not fired!’ Begin as we mean to go on!?

Zoe Bishop  |  Junior Creative

The (not so) secret life of a fanartist

I’m the girl in the office who does those weird Japanese cartoon drawings. I’m not a designer, I’m definitely not an ‘artist’. But I doodle a lot, and once or twice a year I dress up in a school uniform and go sell stuff at conventions.


So. I do anime/manga style drawings. Back when I was a kid, it wasn’t something I’d publicise. Now, it’s kind of (I say that loosely) acceptable and quite a few people know what you’re talking about. Some even find it cool (or at least, that’s what they say to your face).

A couple of years ago, I realised that this ability can buy me money* and fame* and so I ventured into the world of conventions. This means getting a table at a nerdy event (I share with a friend) and selling stationery with my fanart printed on it.

What does it involve?

  1. A lot of drawing
  2. Realising you haven’t drawn as much as you’d like
  3. More drawing (furiously)
  4. A short-lived break during the printing process
  5. Dragging everything to the convention centre
  6. Getting stared/laughed at on public transport
  7. Sitting behind a table for 12 hours and trying to smile
  8. Repeat (6) and (7) for 2-3 days
  9. Burn out

Sounds tiring, but there are benefits.

It’s an experience (of course). You meet other fanartists.

It can be entertaining. The best thing is when men want to buy prints of half-naked women. They have tactics.

A big one for me: you can get free food at the end (example: £40 worth of extortionate rice balls).

And last, but of course not least – it’s fulfilling! Who would have thought that people would pay REAL MONEY for something I’d drawn? I may not be an accomplished illustrator, and I definitely have a long way to go before I’m in any way satisfied with myself. Yet when someone wants to buy something, when someone gets excited about or admires your work, and even wants it on their wall, that’s really something.

I bet someone’s wondering this, so: yes, I do cosplay (dress in costume). But you try sitting behind a table for 12 hours in a wig and 5 layers. In summer. So we keep it simple (ie. sorry, no interesting photos, ask another time).


That’s it. My random hobby. I’d like to add that I never took art GCSE or beyond. Just did a lot of doodling! Don’t feel like you have to be ‘qualified’ to give something a go.

PS: if you want to check out my drawings, go here.


Helen Belben  |  Senior Account Executive