Concept sketch for a runway look inspired by the kidney disease lupus nephritis and Dr. Georgia Charkoftaki’s research to develop a novel targeted drug delivery strategy to fight the disease.


I am currently participating in the Descience competition, where designers create a runway look inspired by a scientist’s research. I am partnered with Georgia Charkoftaki, a postdoc at the University of Colorado Denver, who is currently researching the kidney disease lupus nephritis and targeted drug delivery (explained below).

We recently submitted our final concept sketch:


The description we submitted with the sketch:

Our look represents Georgia’s current research to develop a targeted drug delivery strategy for fighting the kidney disease lupus nephritis. While an increasing number of biological drugs have become available for other autoimmune disorders, treatment for lupus has lagged behind.
The dress represents how different parts in the kidney are affected by either the disease or drug-induced injury. In current treatments, instead of targeting a specific site in the kidney, drugs are exposed to all tissues, causing side effects and injury to other cells.
The jewelry represents the targeted delivery approach Georgia is working on, to provide a new perspective and hope to lupus patients. With this approach, scientists design a vehicle to contain the drug and move it to the targeted site in the kidney, bypassing all other tissues.
We believe there is a beautiful parallel between the way a scientist designs a drug vehicle and the way a fashion designer designs a garment. In both processes we create a structure that will contain something essential – a drug, a person – and design it for a particular purpose – to improve lives or convey ideas.

The sketch below shows a previous concept. This concept did not represent the liposomes (used for targeted drug delivery) as accurately as we wanted, so we re-designed.

Interestingly, the first thing Georgia said when I presented the final sketch, was that she had also been thinking about representing the liposome as jewelry. There may have been some subconscious, telepathic communication going on!

Reflection on the project thus far:

So far it has been an interesting experience working with someone from a completely different discipline. For the first few Skype meetings, I actually talked to both Georgia and the primary investigator of the lab, Melanie Joy. At first there was a bit of a communication barrier (science jargon/design jargon, Skype + email only, ESL for Georgia). Most of the terms they used, I had never heard of; likewise, they had no idea what the design process entails. After our first Skype meeting, I realized it was hard for them to know how detailed they needed to be in explaining and what kind of information was relevant because their research is so extensive. To work around this, I constantly went back and asked them to define words and explain concepts again, and we structured the meetings more like an interview, with prepared a list of specific questions I wanted to ask. Every meeting, I also explained where I was in the process and what my next steps would be.

For the design, there were some interesting challenges in translating the research into a visual and wearable form. The main challenge was finding a balance between having an accurate representation and allowing for abstraction in order to achieve a look that was cohesive and aesthetically pleasing. Cohesiveness, in itself, was also a challenge because there are so many different components to the research. We did not want the design to look like just different parts stuck together, and aimed to present all the research components in a way that would make the connections apparent to the viewer.

The final challenge was in representing our design through the diagrams and descriptions. Once again, we needed to find a balance between accuracy (using the right terms) and explaining it in a way that non-scientists could understand. Also, because the description had a character limit, we had to figure out how to summarize and omit content without losing the most important ideas we wanted to convey.

I was thinking about how this experience of working with a scientist, for a more conceptual project, compares to working with a client who’s background is in business and marketing. With the business type client, the challenge is balancing the needs and wants of the client to create an optimal design, whereas with this project, the science and research being represented is a fairly objective thing. After my most recent client project, it was surprising how easily Georgia agreed with my design decisions. Pleasantly surprising…though I probably shouldn’t get used to it.

Next Steps

Prototypes – for the garment and the jewelry. I want to 3D-print the jewelry to create as accurate a representation as possible, but we’ll have to see if that is feasible…