CANDO

CANDO, (Controlling Abnormal Network Dynamics using Optogenetics), is a world-class, multi-site, cross-disciplinary project to develop a cortical implant for optogenetic neural control. The goal is to create a first-in-man trial of the device in patients with focal epilepsy.  This 7 year, £10M Innovative Engineering for Health Award, funded by the Wellcome Trust and EPSRC involves a team of over 30 neuroscientists, engineers and clinicians based at Newcastle University, Imperial College, University College, London, and Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. Andrew developed new artworks for Illuminating the Self, in concurrent exhibitions at the Hatton and Vane Galleries Newcastle : -

Hatton Gallery (18 January - 9 May 2020) and

Vane Gallery (17 January - 29 February 2020).

Cont. below.....

Within the brain, nerve cells connect together to generate rhythmic activity visible as brain waves on an EEG. In many neurological diseases, this network is disrupted, producing abnormal patterns of activity. In epilepsy, abnormal activity can be localised to a small ‘focus’, but this can spread across the whole brain as a seizure. Epilepsy affects 600,000 people in the UK alone and uncontrolled seizures have a devastating effect on patients’ quality of life. Most cases respond to drugs, but if these are ineffective it may be necessary to surgically remove the ‘focus’. However, surgery is not suitable in all patients and can damage cognitive function.


This project, led by Dr. Andrew Jackson and Professor Anthony O’Neill from Newcastle University, proposes an alternative based on a small implant that continuously records the abnormal activity and provides precisely timed stimulation to prevent it ever developing into a seizure. This requires that some cells within the focus are genetically altered using a safe virus to become sensitive to light. The implant will monitor their activity and provide pulses of light from tiny LEDs to prevent the build up of abnormal activity.

Illuminating the Self. CANDO was delighted that Wellcome Trust awarded it further funding to expand public engagement around the project. The grant was split into three components, a large visual art exhibition, a theatre production and a VR aspect to explore and engage with patients and the public about epilepsy and optogenetics amongst others. CANDO collaborated with renowned international artists Susan Aldworth and Andrew Carnie for concurrent exhibitions which ran at the start of 2020 at the Hatton Gallery and Vane Gallery in Newcastle upon Tyne. 

A new film on the Illuminating the Self project can be seen here:-    FILM  

Blue Matter at the Hatton Gallery

Andrew has made a large-scale new film, Blue Matter, which immerses the visitor in an imagined landscape of the brain. Visual metaphors are created through a combination of drawing and computer animation. Silhouettes of the brain emerge as beautiful and powerful yet at the same time mysterious and enigmatic.  Tree-like forms move and shift mesmerically; jagged lines intermittently cut across them like activity in the brain disrupted by a ‘seizure’. The fragile and delicate forms suggest an idyllic landscape – the brain as Garden of Eden – perfect and untouched.  Moving through the largely monochrome film is an hypnotic experience, at times soothing and meditative but with hints of confusion and danger. 

Interventions within this landscape allude to the science and raise questions over the dilemma of interfering with such beauty: mistletoe grows amongst the tree branches, the electronic implant descends from the darkness as through a road sign in headlights directing a seizure to halt. A series of watchtowers come into view – are they benign or malevolent? The monitoring aspects of the technology is at the heart of its successful application in recognising abnormal brain activity (to deliver treatment) but open to potential interference and misuse. The interventions reflect Andrew’s interest in the application of the technology beyond the CANDO project: “optogenetics research using light to control cells in living tissue may have an impact beyond epilepsy and upon us all”.

The brain is our most complex organ with more than one hundred billion nerve cells. It is responsible for our thoughts, actions, memories and feelings, yet there remain huge gaps in our understanding of its processes and functions. Blue Matter reflects both the scientific fascination of the brain as well as its intensely individual meaning. 

Lucy Jenkins, Curator and Director of Culture and Heritage at Ushaw

Sculptures at Vane

Andrew Carnie further explores disruption and balance through a series of sculptures. During an epileptic seizure, the natural rhythms of brain activity are disturbed and there is a catastrophic reduction in its processing power. The gene therapy and brain implant created by the CANDO project seek to restore an equilibrium. In response Andrew has experimented with different objects in changing states. Balloons inflate and deflate, magnets attract and repel, and the lines of light from laser levels are broken and fragmented. In each case the change is triggered by the sound or movement of exhibition visitors. A still state is unsettled before a period of calm returns.

Lucy Jenkins, Curator and Director of Culture and Heritage at Ushaw