Work of CHECT retinoblastoma researcher highlighted in University of York PhD competition

Nicola O’Donnell, who is researching the psycho-social effects of the rare childhood eye cancer, came fourth in the YorksTalks competition


The work of a Childhood Eye Cancer Trust (CHECT) retinoblastoma PhD researcher has been highlighted by the University of York.

With CHECT’s support, Nicola O’Donnell is investigating the psycho-social effects of retinoblastoma.

Her work saw her become a finalist in the YorksTalks competition, which challenges PhD candidates to articulate their research to a non-specialist audience through an interactive exhibition using a variety of mediums.

O’Donnell worked alongside families that have been affected by retinoblastoma to showcase the reality through an interactive installation.

She said: “Myself and an amazing small group of individuals and parents of children who have had retinoblastoma came up with an interactive installation as part of the competition. This guided the public through the experience of retinoblastoma by asking the audience to look at photos of children prior to diagnosis to explore what symptoms they can see, listen to a children's cancer doctor talking to parents about next steps after a diagnosis, and experience the intensity of people constantly looking in your eyes.

“We also came up with the ideas of walking through a 'sea of thoughts' about what it is like to be a teenager who had retinoblastoma, trying on visual impairment simulation glasses and trying to do an everyday task, watching a video about individual and parents' experiences living through a retinoblastoma diagnosis, treatment, and beyond, and finally by sharing experiences of cancer.”

The competition took place on 11 January, with members of the public interacting with O’Donnell’s installation throughout the day.

The winner was announced at a drinks reception the same evening.

O’Donnell came fourth in the competition, which received over 100 entries.

She added: “My take home learning was how much more we need to talk about childhood cancer. Understandably, it’s not a topic people like to consider. It’s sad and scary. Unfortunately, it happens to families every day.”

“By having uncomfortable conversations, we can raise awareness, create support, and increase crucial funds: unbelievably little funding goes into childhood cancer.”

As part of its work, CHECT funds research into retinoblastoma. The rare childhood eye cancer affects around 50 babies and children in the UK every year.

To learn more about retinoblastoma and its signs and symptoms, visit the CHECT website.