Have you met Dave the Worm? He’s the star of Parkinson’s UK‘s latest fundraising campaign, and I LOVE him. He’s cute and funny, but he also comes with a serious message about so-called ‘basic’ medical research and why it’s so important.
It’s quite hard to make basic research sound sexy, and even harder to be open and honest about animal research – but little Dave manages to do both. He’s a nematode worm – C. elegans to be precise – and researchers are using worms like him to understand more about Parkinson’s disease.
As Dave explains on his Facebook page: “How can a worm cure Parkinson’s (I hear you ask)? Well, I’m not just any worm. I’m a C. elegans, and eight of my nerve cells are nearly identical to those in the part of the brain affected by Parkinson’s. So, by studying me (and my friends and family), scientists can learn more about what causes Parkinson’s – and how to stop it.” Nicely put, Dave!
I really love this campaign. Using a cute character like Dave makes it instantly appealing, and for once he’s actually linked to the research. It’s also a stroke of genius because Dave is a figurehead for all the work that Parkinson’s UK do – sponsoring Dave doesn’t pay for a specific project, but supports all of the charity’s research.
It’s really exciting to see another medical research charity putting animals used in research at the heart of a campaign. British Heart Foundation have already done this with their amazing ‘Mending Broken Hearts’ appeal, which features a zebrafish as a symbol of hope and a key part of the research (although the character’s not quite as prominent on their website as he was at the start of the campaign).
Another reason I like Dave is because he’s a funny little chap. He says things like ‘if I had arms, I’d give you a round of applause’, and my first email after I sponsored him wished me a ‘worm welcome’. There’s no reason why medical research has to be depressing and serious all the time – this campaign is a great example of an idea that makes you feel good, instead of guilty or sad. Dave made me smile and I sponsored him – easy.
And although it doesn’t make a big deal about the importance of animal research, this campaign does send out a subtle message that this work is important and a normal part of tackling disease. Ok, so we’re not sponsoring Minnie the Mouse, but Dave is an animal and the campaign doesn’t shy away from that. I often read about how animal research needs to be ‘normalised’ so it’s not an instant controversy buzz phrase, and I think campaigns like this are taking a big step in the right direction – linking progress in medicine directly with animal studies.
It’s also a lovely way to make basic lab research seem much more exciting and meaningful (even, dare I say it, ‘human’). Medical research is about helping people, but it’s often hard to connect studies on cells in the lab to benefits for patients and supporters. Dave bridges this gap rather neatly by being instantly appealing and explaining his role in research simply and clearly.
I hope Dave is a big success – he’s already got 200 likes on Facebook. So if you like him too, head over there (or follow him on Twitter) and give him some support. He’s only small but I’m hoping he’ll make a huge impact.