Sponges, blood cells and sound-art: the exhibition hoping to cure my cancer
The UK’s first ever cancer research exhibition pairs up patients with researchers to show the creative paths taken on the cutting edge of human discovery
Last modified on Fri 24 Sep 2021 12.42 BSTShortly before the pandemic hit, I found myself dressed in a red lab coat, trying to find a cure for blood cancer. Although that might be overstating things a little. It’s Professor Dominique Bonnet who is at the cutting edge of cancer research, whereas I was just tagging along for a day at the Francis Crick Institute, hoping to get a feel for what a career in the laboratory looks like.
It was a fascinating experience, especially seeing how Bonnet’s work could be surprisingly hands-on. I learned that she uses sponges of collagen in her research because the material is so similar to the bone marrow in which our blood cells are made. By dipping these tiny sponges into human stromal cells and then inserting them into the backs of mice to develop naturally, scientists are better able to monitor how cancer progresses and reacts to certain interventions. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the sponges can be removed afterwards, leaving the mice unharmed, although of course other cancer research is not able to be as humane.
A short film made of my day with Bonnet is one of several to go on display at Outwitting Cancer: Making Sense of Nature’s Enigma, a new exhibition at the Francis Crick Institute in London. Delayed until now due to the pandemic, it is the first ever exhibition on cancer research in the UK – and the first cancer exhibition to take place within the setting of a working science lab. The Crick is certainly headtopics.com
an inspiring building to be inside: its open-plan design means that the many different teams beavering away bump into each other frequently, sharing ideas and fostering collaboration.Art meets science… a scan showing the formation of a type of blood clot that can give rise to acute myeloid leukemia.
Photograph: Electron Microscopy STP, Francis Crick InstituteI had a special interest in speaking to Professor Bonnet because I have a rare blood cancer called essential thrombocythemia (ET) – put simply, it means my bone marrow makes too many platelets, which are responsible for the blood clotting. Although ET is incurable, it is relatively benign as blood cancers go – yet in some cases it will transform into nastier diseases such as myelofibrosis and acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Bonnet is an expert in the latter, and she hopes to find out more about why some people with my condition get AML and others don’t. People who are “pre-leukemic” such as me might hold some important answers.
I’m not the only one involved in the exhibition because of a personal interest. BBC journalist George Alagiah, who is living with stage four bowel cancer, is filmed chatting to stem cell and cancer scientist Vivian Li. She creates “mini-organs” in her quest to personalise cancer treatments. Elsewhere former lawyer and author Adam Blain talks to Crick scientist Simon Boulton about the role of DNA damage in causing cancer and how Boulton uses tiny nematode worms as models for genetic tests. Other conversations tackle reconstructive surgery after breast cancer and the taboos that still exist around discussing the disease. And there will be an immersive audiovisual installation that weaves together stunning microscopy imagery of cancer cells and blood vessels alongside a soundscape created by musician and artist Mira Calix.
Voyage of discovery … Vivian Li and George Alagiah in conversation.Photograph: Jon CartwrightWhat’s fascinating to me is the crossover between arts and science that has to occur in order to move this research forward. Rather than working within separate disciplines, scientists really need to think creatively in order to make advances, while an open mind to interpret findings is essential. It’s not just hard facts and figures. headtopics.com
But here is a fact and a figure: half of us will develop cancer in our lifetime. Yet from personalised treatments that aim to harness a person’s own immune system to fight the disease, to new cell therapies that might become available in a similar way to donated blood in blood banks, there’s a reassuring amount of light on the horizon.
As for me, the progression of my cancer isn’t entirely predictable – and although there are medications available to control my blood counts, at present there is nothing that can reliably stop it progressing into something worse. I hope my condition remains stable until the scientists working at places like the Crick institute find a way to outsmart it. Research is moving at a tremendous pace, and knowing that people like Dominique are out there, adding to the knowledge base each day, makes me feel hopeful for the future – and extremely grateful.
is at the Francis Crick Institute, London, from 25 September until July 2022. Read more: The Guardian »
Inside Jisoo’s Touching First Trip To The Dior Ateliers
It’s a fairytale dream come true for the 26-year-old fashion plate.
Scientists use AI to create drug regime for rare form of brain cancer in childrenHopes that breakthrough marks new era where artificial intelligence can develop treatments for all types of cancer good
Cancer backlog caused by pandemic may take more than a decade to clearA new report estimates that 19,500 people who should have been diagnosed have not been due to missed referrals.
Jade Thirlwall's sweet gift for Perrie and Leigh-Anne after giving birthThis sounds so lovely ❤️
Six-foot boa constrictor found coughing up blood amid fears snakes being dumpedResidents living in a Shropshire hamlet were left spooked after warnings the area could be being used as a place to abandon exotic pets Congratulations!!!Very well done!!! Best Wishes blessing you all🇮🇳💕💥 😌😌 I know they are dangerous animals but don't go off killing one unless it's affecting you're life 😞this is how the world is going to end up in a end if we keep killing each other and animals
GLAMOUR Tries: We put Kryolan's Fixing Spray to the test to see if it really does keep makeup in place all dayAn invisible protective film which prolongs the life of the makeup? Sounds good to us!
Mum told she was 'too young for breast cancer' dies weeks after wedding dayMum-of-two Sinead Richards died on September 10 - just weeks after her wedding - after battling aggressive breast cancer that had spread through her body Doctors used to know their patient’s , now they are on the computers all the time looking for answers to problems. This shouldn’t have happened