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Cell Stem Cell Cover Art

for Gene Editing iPSC Project

 "The clinical application of iPS cells has begun, with patients receiving transplantations of cells made from iPS cells to treat eye and brain diseases. However, the number of patients who can benefit from these and future therapies is limited due to donor-patient matching. In a new study seen in Cell Stem Cell, the Akitsu Hotta and Shin Kaneko laboratories report a gene-editing strategy could bring iPS cell therapies to a wider range of patients."

(from CiRA press-release)

The paper can be seen at (Cell Stem Cell doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2019.02.005 )

The knockout of all but one HLA allele by gene editing simplifies donor-patient matching while minimizing the risk of an immune reaction.

Dr. Huaigeng Xu, the first author of the study asked me to create cover art for the paper. 

They edited human leukocyte antigen (HLA), the cell-surface proteins that regulate the immune system. Donors who share the same HLA as the patient are said to match and therefore do not elicit a dangerous immune response.


A Metaphor for Allogeneic Transplant


There are two common types of stem cell transplants; one is autologous and the other is allogeneic. An autologous transplant uses a patient’s own cells, while an allogeneic transplant uses cells from another person.

From an immunological perspective, an autologous transplant is ideal, but for iPS cells, it is time-consuming and costly. On the other hand, allogeneic transplant has the risk of immune rejection if the HLA is mismatch between patient and donor. 

Perhaps it is easier to imagine if you compare transplants to suits. Allogeneic transplants are like custom tailored suits : it fits to your size, but it costs a lot and takes much time to make. Autologous suits are like off-the-rack suits, but there is a chance they may not fit your body. 

A metaphor for an autologous (tailored) transplant and mismatched allogeneic transplants.

A metaphor for matched allogeneic transplant.

My first rough sketch for the cover art is a same idea of off-the-rack suits. It shows different women wearing the same design of dress. The image suggests a “universal” cell – perfect cell lines that fit everybody. This idea is however, slightly off the point of this study.

“It is rather, ‘a few-sizes-fit-many’, not ‘one-size-fit-all’”, said Xu. Also, we anticipated that many women figures in different types of body shape and skin color might cause a sensitive issue. 

My first rough idea for the cover art. 

I thought over any other motifs that show diversity, then made an alternative sketch. Dogs - one of the most diverse species on the planet - wearing scarves. With knitting as a metaphor for gene editing, unfitted knit hats transform into wearable scarves for many kinds of dogs originating from all around the world. By putting a variation in color of scarves, I tried to avoid the concept of only-one-fits-all.

Rough sketch on a tracing paper.

Water color and colored pencil on paper. As a trick, I sprinkled salt over a wet paper to create the texture on the background.

A finished Cover Art (with official Cell Stem Cell logo.)

We were not sure if the journal permits any alternation to the journal logo as part of the cover art. Just in case, we submitted the version with drawn knitting needles without altering the logo. It turned out that the logo altered version was selected after all.

Looking back this project, I struggled with choosing a motif, but I am happy that I chose dogs after all.

I cannot describe my love for dogs. I grew up with three german shepherd dogs, sketching them since I remember. 

They are my roots of illustration. 

Another cover version that we submitted. Although the blue background version was selected after all, I personally like this one better since the color is soothing.

A memory of beloved dogs, Killa (right) and Laicca (left). Both have already passed away.

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