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Ad of the Day: NFTs created with real cancer cells to fund cutting-edge cancer treatment


By Kendra Barnett, Associate Editor

June 3, 2022 | 5 min read

Here's a fresh, powerful and positive take on NFTs. A collaboration between the Institute of Oncology in Gliwice, Ogilvy, the Alivia Cancer Foundation and Polish artist Paweł Swanski, ‘Buy My Cancer’ is being touted not only as “the first NFT series designed to save lives,” but an entirely new type of medical funding model.

Cancer cells 3d rendering

'Buy My Cancer' brings together science, art and blockchain technology in pursuit of better cancer treatments / Adobe Stock

The project takes microscopic images of real, live cancer cells and transforms them into beautiful artwork to be sold as NFTs. The photos — the first of which were snapped by Tomasz Cichon, PhD and Ryszard Smolarczyk, PhD in March — were taken via a confocal microscope. They depict cells of cancer patients at the Institute of Oncology in Gliwice in Poland.

Pawel Swanski — a Warsaw-based artist and designer known for his large-format murals featuring undulating, complex linework — then came in to transform the photographs into paintings that depict an ivy-like design suffocating the cancer cells. Swanski created three unique paintings, all of which have been turned into NFTs.

Additional NFTs were made of the video recordings documenting his artistic process. They have been listed on the world’s leading NFT marketplaces, OpenSea and VAST. The project was created with help from Ogilvy.

Funds made from sales of the series will be donated to the Alivia Cancer Foundation and will help finance a pricey cancer therapy known as CAR-T, a cutting-edge and highly effective immunotherapy. In essence, CAR-T therapy genetically modifies a patient’s existing lymphocytes, or immune cells, enabling these cells to recognize and fight off cancer cells within the body.

Though the method is relatively new, early clinical trials suggest that CAR-T therapy can cure approximately 40% of patients for whom other treatments have proven ineffective.

Professor Jacek Jassem, MD, PhD, serves as a supervisor of the ‘Buy My Cancer’ project from the medical side. Jassem runs the Department of Oncology and Radiotherapy at Medical University of Gdansk in Poland and is considered a leading expert in oncological radiotherapy and clinical oncology. He’s also a cancer survivor himself and sees CAR-T therapy as a promising, novel approach. “I believe that the term ‘breakthrough therapy’ is overused in Poland, and it raises lots of unnecessary emotions. However, the CAR-T cells method deserves this description — it is the beginning of a new era in oncology,” he said in a statement. “I express my opinion not only as a doctor, but also as a patient.”

Unfortunately, the therapy is extremely costly, ringing up around $400,000 per patient — and it’s not always covered by insurance. As such, many patients who might be good candidates for the treatment struggle to afford it.

“CAR-T cells are often the last hope for cancer patients for whom there are no other treatment options. Unfortunately, it is extremely expensive,” explained Professor Sebastian Giebel, MD, PhD, who supervised the project alongside Jassem. Giebel serves as head of the Department of Bone Marrow Transplantation and Onco-Hematology at the National Institute of Oncology in Gliwice as well as president of both the Polish Adult Leukemia Group and Polish Lymphoma Research Group. “I got personally involved… because I have many patients in such a situation and I am not able to help them.”

Once Swanski’s series of NFTs are minted and sold, however, the project has only just begun. The participating organizations will then kick off the #buymycancerchallenge, through which Swanski will nominate the next artist to work on the project. Meanwhile, professors Giebel and Jassem will tap other scientists to help create the next NFT series.

Like this first collection, forthcoming 'Buy My Cancer' collections will feature NFTs made from patients’ living cancer cells. The project is backed by a number of partners including NFT marketplace Vast, crypto fundraising platform The Giving Block as well as international law firms Wolf Theiss and Bird & Bird.

The first patient whose cells were photographed for the series is Jakub Burnos, a student at the AGH University of Science and Technology in Krakow, Poland. Burnos suffers from a very rare and aggressive form of lymphoma.

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Institute of Oncology: Buy My Cancer by Ogilvy

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