Revolution on fighting cancer to its core – An exhibition at the Science Museum in London

Revolution on fighting cancer to its core – An exhibition at the Science Museum in London

The Science Museum in London launched a new exhibition on Wednesday 25th may 2022: Cancer Revolution – Science, Innovation and Hope. It will be running until January 2023.

The display has previously been shown at the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester, and gained an incredible popularity from visitors who declared feeling more confident to face cancer as they understood better its origins and how it is fought by advanced research, medical trials and cutting edge technologies.

“It is world the first object-reach exhibition in the world to reveal the past, present and future on how cancer is prevented, detected and treated. And it comes at a time when one in two of us will have cancer in our lifetime. This exhibitions aims to leave visitors inspired and empowered by the advancement in diagnosis, treatment and care.” Dr Julia Knights

Dr Julia Knights, Deputy Director of the Science Museum, opening the exhibition – Photo credit ©CécileFaure

Strength through Testimony and Support

The exhibitions contains both scientific artefacts and patient personal stories on how research and treatments have impacted their lives and of their friends and families.

The visitor enters the exhibition through a bright corridor. Portraits of patients line both sides of the path, accompanied with a recollection of their journey with cancer and a token item, graciously lent to the Living With Cancer Collecting Project, that brought them confort during challenging times.

“Creating artworks while having cancer made me feel empowered.” Amy

Artwork made by Amy during her treatment for blood cancer, sourced through Living with Cancer Project©Science Museum Group

Testimony takes a crucial part in the raise of awareness and the fight against cancer, as courageously demonstrated by Deborah James, aka @bowelbabe.

” Dame Deborah James has played an instrumental role in advising us on this exhibition, and this year we were delighted to award the Science Museum Fellowship to Deborah in recognition of her extraordinary contribution.” Dr Julia Knights

All the medications used by Anne-Marie every month to manage the side-effects of her cancer treatment, including sight loss and pain, sourced through Living with Cancer Project©Science Museum Group

Small attention and delicate proofs of love and support from members of the family and friends are key to a patient’s ability to find strength and hope during the whole cancer journey, from diagnosis to undergoing treatment, or even after when life must resume its normal course.

Cancer patient Sarah’s wig stands as decorated by her daughter, sourced through Living with Cancer Project©Science Museum Group

Art encounter of the disease is also part of its better apprehension by the public. Works are displayed through the whole exhibition, providing an insight of the impacts that cancer may have on the psychological and emotional state of the patients and her/his environment. Thus, the series Shadow and Light by photographer Nudrat Afza captures her sister’s breast cancer treatment journey

Shadow and Light, – Photo credit ©CécileFaure

Or, in a theatre like setting, the visitor is invited to listen to the voices of patients or their entourage, as if spoken of the glass sculpture casts made from radiotherapy mask of patients, giving a poignant testimony of the fear, of the pain, of the hope felt through that cancer journey.

Glass sculpture casts made from radiotherapy mask of patients, Silent Stories, Katharine Downson, 2010 – Photo credit ©CécileFaure

Understanding Cancer and Treatment through History

The exhibition starts with a collection of artefacts to help understand that cancer is not a human only disease, that it is found through the whole kingdom of life (fauna, flora, and fungi).

Cancer Revolution – Photo credit ©CécileFaure

Cancer results from changes in the DNA instructions of certains cells, increasing their rate of division and spreading to the rest of the body.

The visitor is shown objects never displayed before such as the first bone tumour to be identified in a dinosaur fossil (as above: the cast of the shinbone of a centrosaurus diagnosed with an osteosarcoma, loan courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum, photo left ©ScienceMuseumGroup, photo right ©CécileFaure) or evidence of a tree tumour, known as a crown-gall, from the Economic Botany Collection of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew.

Close-up of a tree tumour, loan courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum – ©Science Museum Group

Evidence of early descriptions of cancer and attempts to treat the disease are also on display, such as a jar of black hellebore root or blood letting equipment used during the 16th century (as seen below, loan from the Welcome Collection).

©Science Museum Group

If historically surgery has been the traditional treatment of cancer by removal of the identified tumour (see the very graphic illustrations of surgeries of a breast cancer in the 17th century, on loan from the Welcome Collection), the study of chemistry and discovery of radiations have provided tremendous tools to treat and cure the disease in less invasive means.

Hence, did you know that the study of the effects of the deadly mustard gas, developed in the 1820’s and first used as a chemical weapon 100 years later during the First World War, led to the discovery of the first chemotherapy drugs ? And that an X-ray tube was part of a treatment of cancer at the surface of the skin as early as 1917 ?

And what about the radium therapy apparatus used to shrink tumour prior to surgery by brothers Ernest and Frank Carling at Westminster Hospital in London in the 1930’s (as seen above: photo left ©CécileFaure, photo right loan courtesy of the Welcome Collection ©ScienceMuseumGroup) ?

Tech against Cancer – Meet the team

As the visitor progresses through the exhibition, new technologies and great breakthroughs are explained by those, women and men, who are working everyday to develop new means to fight cancer, a disease that will touch one in two of us.

Professor Charles Swanton discussing recent developments in cancer research – Photo credit ©CécileFaure

“This exhibition is a unique opportunity for the Cancer Research UK to demonstrate some of the remarkable research that has been conducted in the United Kingdom and increasingly across the globe in a very immersive way, to improve the public’s knowledge and understanding of the disease, to reduce the scare factor and improve hope in patients as well as healthy individuals”. Professor Charles Swanton

Do not expect to be out of this room any time soon. The truth is that, one might be overwhelmed by the plethora of innovations that relentless scientists are developing, and thankful for the hope there is one day to make cancer a non-life threatening disease anymore.

A room full of of solutions, Cancer Revolution – Photo credit ©CécileFaure

” From this exhibition we get this sens of wonder of scientific discovery that brings hope to patients that one day we will improve outcomes. I was born in 1972. Then, only 40 % of women diagnosed with breast cancer would have a chance of cure. Today, 80 % of those women have a chance of cure. […] Let’s hope we are in the last chapter of cancer research.” Professor Charles Swanton

So what is on offer ? Amongst the many revolutionary devices and treatments explained throughout the exhibition, one may learn about the following.

A life-size photo of the Proton Beam Therapy equipment transports us in what would be a futuristic world for the novice. But this new form of radiotherapy, that is currently only available on the NHS at The Christie Hospital in Manchester, is indeed already in use, targeting tumours with less damage to tissues and faster recovery with fewer associated side effects. It can treat both benign and malignant tumours, and is a suitable treatment for children and young adults.

Proton Beam Therapy – Photo credit ©CécileFaure

A very special sponge developed by Professor Rebecca Fitzgerald of MRC Cancer Unit of the University of Cambridge. The cytosponge, swallowed as a pill, opens as a cell sampling sponge used to detect abnormal cells that may increase the risk of oesophageal cancer, a disease more frequent over the past 30 years, before being retrieved through the mouth.

The Cytosponge – ©Science Museum Group

The drug Olaparib, sold under the brand name Lynparza, developed and first dosed into patients by KuDOS Pharmaceuticals founded by Stephen Jackson of Cambridge University. This medication is a PARP (poly ADP ribose polymerase – an enzyme involved in DNA repair) inhibitor and is used against cancers in patients with hereditary BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations, which include some ovarian, breast, and prostate cancers.

The i-knife that stands for intelligent knife invented by Professor Zoltan Takats, from Imperial College London, and used at The Royal Marsden Hospital. As the knife cuts through the tissues where the malignant tumour is, it collects samples that are analysed simultaneously, and tells the surgeon when and where she/he may stop.

The i-knife – Photo credit ©CécileFaure

A method of sampling elaborated by Professor Caroline Dive and her team from Cancer Research Institute in Manchester to track through blood tests how and when a patient’s cancer is becoming resistant to treatment through developing tests looking for cancer cells that have broken free from tumours and circulate in the blood. Less invasive, it may help predict which patient benefits more from one treatment than another.

Tracking signs in cancer from blood samples – Photo credit ©CécileFaure

Predicting and tracking cancer is the next move to getting a step ahead of the disease and increase positive outcomes for patients. Research in new treatments and early diagnosis is fundamental to make cancer a “disease of the past”. This is the ultimate object of this incredibly insightful exhibition not to miss if in London: to teach the public about advancements and raise awareness in how crucial it is to support doctors and nurses as well as scientists who work relentlessly to beat cancer.

Predicting and tracking cancer – Photo credit ©CécileFaure

“Cancer is relentless. So are we” Cancer Research UK

The exhibition has been made possible thanks to the support of Cancer Research UK, Pfizer and John S Cohen Foundation and Julian Howard.

Access to the exhibition is free, however…

At the end of the exhibition, there is a discreet stand from Cancer Research UK that tells the incredible work of this institution and the QRCode displayed takes the visitor to its website.

It is possible to make a donation here by clicking on the image below. However small it might be, this donation will make an immense difference to both research and patients’s lives.

Cancer Revolution

Cancer Revolution – Science, Innovation and Hope

25 May 2022 – January 2023

Science Museum – Exhibition Rd, South Kensington, London SW7 2DD (Closest tube station is South Kensington)

Science Museum Website

Tickets are free but must be booked in advance here