Signals Blog

long roll tiescarf overfoldedStraight from the laboratory to the runway, it looks like stem cells have gone haute couture.

Fashion designer Dominic Pangborn has teamed up with a group of researchers from the Heinz C. Prechter Bipolar Research Fund at the University of Michigan to create a stunning set of scarves and ties featuring striking human stem cell images.

This isn’t the first time stem cells have served as fashion muses. In a past blog, professors Arnold Caplan and Glenn Prestwich were caught sporting matching ties with stem cell clusters at the annual Business of Regenerative Medicine course when it was held in Toronto.

However, this is the first time that we’ve seen such a unique print inspired by stem cells. Upon closer examination, each of Pangborn’s design patterns reveals images of brain stem cells alongside butterflies, which he says is meant to convey a message of hope and metamorphosis.

University of Michigan researchers generated the images while studying stem cells, derived from skin cells, donated by people with and without bipolar disorder. They’re looking for any potential differences at the genetic and molecular levels to aid in future medication applications – thus potentially doing away with the current trial-and-error approach in favour of more customized treatments.

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health reports that 1 to 2 percent of adults in Canada have bipolar disorder – this is slightly higher in the U.S. – a medical condition characterized by extreme mood swings that can affect how people think and act. At this time, the cause of bipolar disorder is still unknown.

Researchers at the University of Michigan are hoping to change that, with a team in place to examine the fundamental biological changes associated with the disorder and new interventions to treat and/or potentially prevent it.

They’ve already made substantial leaps. Two years ago, in one of the first stem cell studies of bipolar disorder, University of Michigan researchers demonstrated that nerve cells, in people with bipolar disorder, respond differently to lithium, a common form of treatment. Apparently, the nerve cells in people with the disorder send out electrical signals more frequently compared to nerves cells in people without it. The university reported that it was the first time that scientists were able to measure differences in brain cell formation and function in people with and without the disorder.

In addition to helping researchers better understand the causes of bipolar disorder, the “misbehaving cells” also happen to make quite the fashion statement.

The scarves and ties are available now, so you can strike a pose and spread awareness for mental health research. All proceeds will go directly to the Prechter Fund to support bipolar research projects at the University of Michigan Depression Centre.

A little online shopping for the greater good? Count us in.

Visit the Pangborn Collection for more details.

Our regular feature, Right Turn, appears every Friday and we invite you to submit your own blog to info(at) We encourage you to be creative and use the right (!) side of your brain. We dare you to make us laugh! Right Turn features cartoons, photos, videos and other content to amuse, educate and encourage discussion.

As always, we welcome your feedback in the comment section.

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Alanna Evans

Alanna Evans

Alanna Evans is a multimedia journalist and communications professional, with experience producing health and features stories for the leading women’s magazines in England and Canada.