Cancer Revolution: Science, Innovation and Hope
Cancer Revolution: Science, Innovation and Hope is a world-first exhibition at the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester that navigates patient stories, cancer causes and treatments, and the future of facing cancer. This tale echoes the hope around the future of cancer outcomes for patients. It details the progress that has been made in prevention, diagnosis and treatment and the ‘revolution’ that now means more of us are living longer and better with cancer than ever before.
This blog covers the highlights of the exhibition while focussing on our researchers here at the MCRC and the pioneering work they have been undertaking to better the lives of people with cancer.
Upon entry to the exhibition, there are dozens of patient stories that detail and exemplify the strength and resilience of these individuals. The dark room is perfectly juxtaposed with the brightness of illuminated portraits which further echo the formidable patient journeys. Each patient story is accompanied with a token item that holds meaning to the patient’s personal cancer journey. From decorated mementos and pictures to art projects undertaken during treatment, each individual item represents an insurmountable value to its owner. These moving accounts fill the room with a warming sense of thanks and optimism.
What is cancer?
Moving through the exhibition, stands covering topics such as ‘What is cancer?’, ‘Cancer and life on Earth’, and ‘Uncovering causes of cancer’ give an informative overlook, dispelling cancer myths and providing visitors with a basis for the rest of the exhibit.
These stands describe how cancer is not a modern or uniquely human disease, and how it arises from changes in DNA instructions which make the cells behave differently, causing them to divide rapidly and spread to other parts of the body. Numerous graphics and simulations accompany this section, giving a great pictorial representation of cancer development.
Organoids: Tumour cells in 3D
This is an image of organoids which are tiny 3D clusters of tumour cells that can be grown directly from an individual’s cancer.
This is an image of an animation of the growth of tumour cells amongst normal cells.
A 3D model of Ilumina sequencing chips used to ID and compare genetic differences between groups of cancer cells within a tumour.
When cancer appears
Every two minutes, someone in the UK is diagnosed with cancer. With one in two people getting cancer in their lifetime, such stark statistics show that no-one will lead a life unaffected by cancer. However, great research efforts are working to shift the emphasis to earlier cancer detection and diagnosis while also improving treatments to provide better patient outcomes.
Karen Kirkby and Proton Beam Therapy
Historically, surgery was the main method to treat cancer. While Surgery is still a common method of treatment, the discovery of radiation and targeted therapies in the 1990s led to dramatic shifts in how cancer was treated. Now, almost half of all people with cancer will receive radiotherapy as part of their treatment plan.
Professor Karen Kirkby talks about the use of Proton Beam Therapy (PBT) in targeting tumours. PBT is a new form of radiotherapy which causes less damage to tissues and allows for faster recovery with fewer associated side effects. It is a treatment suitable for children and young adults, whose bodies are still developing and can treat both malignant and benign tumours.
The Christie is currently home to the only high energy Proton Beam Therapy centre available on the NHS in the country.
We are incredibly fortunate to have a research room in the clinical Proton Therapy Facility (funded by The Christie Charity). This means our research is informed by clinical needs and we are in an excellent position to translate our research into the clinic working with our clinical colleagues in The Christie. We will be able to keep proton therapy in Manchester at the cutting edge and provide the best possible treatments for patients. Our research also benefits from our close proximity and interaction with the MCRC, which means we have access to excellent people, knowledge, facilities and equipment.
Professor Karen Kirkby
New horizons in cancer research
As we move into the next portion of the exhibition, the room opens up to reveal a plethora of work focusing on early detection and treatments. Cancer is an ever-evolving disease and therefore, so too should be the treatments for it. This part of exhibition spotlights the work of our researchers to stay one step ahead of the disease, each accompanied with their own life size photographs. In this section, an all-encompassing feeling of hope fills the room, with numerous stories of teams driving the science to better detection and treatment of cancer.
Retraining our immune system to detect cancer
Professor Amit Patel
Firstly, a special mention to Professor Amit Patel, Consultant Haematologist at The Christie, who sadly passed away in 2021 after a period of illness. He was nationally recognised for his clinical trial’s portfolio and clinical leadership in transplant and chimeric antigen receptor T (CAR-T) cell therapies.
Since 2019, Professor Patel’s team at The Christie have been treating patients with different types of blood cancer with this personalised form of immunotherapy, CAR-T-cell therapy, which engineers cells on a patient-by-patient basis. This involves collecting a patient’s immune cells, retraining them with gene editing and returning them to the patient, so that the patient’s immune system can recognise and target cancer cells.
Amit’s legacy will live on through his research which he dedicated his life’s work to, to improve the outcomes of people with cancer. Read more moving dedications from Amit’s colleagues here.
Tracking signs of cancer evolution in blood
Professor Caroline Dive
Professor Caroline Dive and her team are working to track how and when a patient’s cancer is becoming resistant to treatment through developing tests called ‘liquid biopsies’. These tests ‘hunt’ cancer cells that have broken free from tumours and go on to circulate in the blood. The team are looking for these circulating tumour cells to understand how lung cancer changes as it grows as well as well as predict possible cancer recurrence in patients who have had their cancer removed by surgery.
This method of sampling could be a less invasive and simpler option to monitor a patient’s cancer in comparison with having tumour samples removed throughout repeated surgeries. The information collected from these tests is helping to predict which patients will benefit from particular treatments, thus enabling clinicians to plan their treatment ahead of their cancer returning.
This exhibition is a fantastic way to spotlight the research teams who are working to better the outcomes of people living with cancer. Through developing liquid biopsies to track signs of cancer evolution in blood, my team are able to understand how lung cancer changes as it grows. This will enable better prediction of cancer recurring and so is a game-changing approach which will improve the treatment for many people with cancer.
Professor Caroline Dive
Trialling cell therapies to treat solid tumours
Professor Fiona Thistlethwaite
Professor Fiona Thistlethwaite is working on a clinical trial whereby genetically engineered T-cells are being trialled in patients with solid tumours. This complex clinical trial has been delivered throughout COVID-19 and is focussing on patients with synovial sarcoma, a rare cancer type which develops in cells around the joints and tendons.
There is currently a lack of therapy options for this rare cancer type and so this trial hopes to open the door for developing treatments for both this tumour type and other solid-tumour cancers in the future.
The exhibition is a fantastic way to learn about many different aspects of cancer, from the history of the disease, to patient journeys and cutting-edge new treatments. It includes information about the research that I am involved in where patients’ own cells are turned into powerful drugs to combat the disease and you can read about patients experiences of receiving this type of cellular therapy.
Professor Fiona Thistlethwaite
Detecting lung cancer earlier in the community
Dr Phil Crosbie
Dr Phil Crosbie worked to set up a Lung Health Check (LHC) programme in Manchester which took mobile CT scanners to communities who are most at risk from lung cancer. People aged 55 to 74 with a history of smoking were invited by their GP for a free LHC. Dr Crosbie and his colleagues found one cancer case in every 23 people who were screened. Of the 61 cases of lung cancer discovered, 80% of these were at stages 1 and 2 where the disease is more easily treatable.
This incentive, pioneered by Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust and supported by the NIHR Manchester Biomedical Research Centre, shows the benefits of early detection in improving patient prognoses. Identifying and engaging with high-risk individuals is imperative to address health disparities and these LHCs are now being trialled across England.
Every year, over 30,000 extra cancer cases are attributed to socio-economic variation with poorer outcomes for the most deprived groups. Manchester’s population has the highest rate of lung cancer deaths in the country and smokers in areas of high deprivation are those least likely to attend screening. In order to improve engagement in these communities and help tackle health inequality we developed these community-based lung cancer screening programmes. Thanks to this exhibition, our work is being brilliantly spotlighted, and we hope to see programmes such as this implemented on a much greater scale to continue to transform outcomes for patients with lung cancer.
Dr Phil Crosbie
Facing cancer together
Whilst many still face the stark tragedy of loss from cancer, we leave the exhibition with an overwhelming amount of hope that now surrounds the future of cancer outcomes. With researchers focusing on early detection and specialised treatments, patients can look to even living longer and better with cancer. For those one in two who will receive a cancer diagnosis in their lifetime, the future looks significantly brighter as together we move towards better outcomes for those with cancer.
Cancer Revolution: Science Innovation and Hope is a free exhibition at the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester. It is open until March 2022, before relocating to London for the Summer. Book your free tickets here.