Rialto harvests human tears for research into breast cancer

Today the Rialto Channel is hosting special ‘Breast Cancer Screenings’ at Academy Cinemas with four Ascendant Dx scientists who have flown over to collect the tears of cinemagoers.

Ascendant Dx is an American research firm, which has found tears can be used to detect breast cancer with up to 90 percent accuracy. A DDB copywriter originally read about the research, which is in need of more experiments, and the agency and Rialto Channel were immediately interested in helping out.

“We’re in the business of emotional journeys,” says Rialto Channel general manager Roger Wyllie. “When we heard about this incredible research, we realised that our stories are producing an abundance of tears across the country — we’re the perfect partners to help this research come to fruition.”

The romantic drama Brooklyn is being shown at three Auckland screenings throughout the day to draw out tears. Each film attendee will fill out their personal details and receive a small kit, including an absorbent strip to collect said tears, from the American researchers present. DDB chief creative officer Damon Stapleton says the event took months of planning because of the different elements involved.

Print, online and social media marketing called on women to register for a free film ticket on Rialto Channel’s website and Stapleton says he is really pleased to see how many people turned out. He estimates around 400 crying viewers for today.

Film writer, blogger and breast cancer fighter Helene Ravlich is an ambassador for the event, with a particularly relevant connection to it.

“As someone actively going through breast cancer for the second time, I applaud any initiative that encourages early detection for all women, and this new technology is designed for just that,” she says. “I feel so empowered that I can use my position as a film blogger with Rialto Channel to help spread the word, and hopefully help make a difference as a result.”

She is at the screenings to stand up at the start and tell her story to bring the message home. However, Ravlich has already seen the films as she curated the emotional tear-jerking films.

Stapleton says her presence is very powerful for the ladies in the cinema, adding “it shows the power of storytelling”.

The New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation is supporting the initiative and CEO Van Henderson says she’s excited to work with such a trailblazing research project close to home.

“New Zealand has one of the highest instances of breast cancer in the world and it touches so many Kiwi families, so to see this example of innovation in early detection is fantastic.”

However, Henderson reiterates that this is an early stage trial.

“This is still at a very early stage, so we continue to stress the importance of regular mammograms for Kiwi women, but we’re thrilled to be supporting something that could add to the arsenal of tools we have to reduce the number of women dying from this terrible disease.”

The screenings are a world first event seeing as Ascendant Dx is still to seek regulatory approval in Europe and the United States for the new detection tool.

Chief scientist at Ascendant Dx Dr Anna Daily says tears are a promising field for study.

“The beauty of tear fluid is it is much less complex than working with blood,” she says. “Proteins are at higher concentrations than say urine, and it’s cleaner than having to work with saliva.”

It is a “blossoming area of research” where other types of cancer biomarkers, which indicate cancers, could be discovered.

For Stapleton the event was chance to align a storytelling narrative with a chance to do some good.

“Rialto Channel is all about being the storyteller and I can’t think of a better story to tell than this,” he says. “I’m just really proud of the people who put a huge amount of work into it. It could lead to some good for the world.”

Have the movies made Stapleton cry?: “Maybe,” he says. “Maybe one tear.”

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