Publish date: 22 October 2021

UCLH staff have had a crucial role in helping to develop a major new exhibition at the Science Museum, called Cancer Revolution: Science, Innovation and Hope. Created with support from Cancer Research UK, the exhibition explores the revolution in science that is transforming cancer care. It is the first major object-rich exhibition to reveal the past, present and future of how cancer is prevented, detected and treated. It opens at the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester on Friday 22 October 2021 and then at the Science Museum in London in 25 May 2022.

Professor Charles Swanton of UCLH, UCL Cancer Institute and the Francis Crick Institute and clinician scientist and senior lecturer in medical oncology, Dr Mariam Jamal-Hanjani, have worked closely with exhibition curator Katie Dabin right from the start of the process, helping to visually depict cancer evolution in objects and images.

Charles and Mariam co-lead the Tracking Cancer Evolution (TRACERx) lung cancer study and PEACE – the Posthumous Evaluation of Advanced Cancer Environment – study, at UCLH and UCL Cancer Institute, supported by the Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) at UCLH and Cancer Research UK.

Both the TRACERx and PEACE studies feature in the exhibition, as does UCLH patient, Eileen Rapley, who is part of both studies.
Professor Charles Swanton said: “I have been on the Science Museum’s advisory board, meeting with the curator every three months over the last two years. It has been very interesting to see how ideas for the exhibition have evolved. Explaining to people what cancer is can be very difficult. There are more possibilities for tumour evolution than there are stars in the universe! I hope the exhibition helps with peoples understanding and also helps to explain why it can be such a difficult disease to treat. We are hugely grateful to Eileen, one of our TRACERx patients who contributed the ‘patient perspective’ to this exhibition.”

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Exhibit of Professor Charles Swanton and the TRACERx study

Dr Mariam Jamal-Hanjani said: “Working with the Science Museum on this exhibition has been quite a departure from my normal work in the lab and in clinic and very enjoyable. We suggested objects they could include, such as biopsy needles, chips of genetic sequencing, also scans of lungs. We also explained how we draw pictures of trees for our cancer patients to help them to understand how cancer evolves over time. We’re very grateful to patient Eileen for agreeing to share her experience of being part of both TRACERx and PEACE in the exhibition and to help people appreciate how vital taking part in research can be.”

Katie Dabin, curator of Cancer Revolution: Science, Innovation and Hope, said: “Charlie and Mariam have been so incredibly supportive of this exhibition – I really can’t thank them enough. One of the standout moments for me as we began developing this show was meeting with Charlie and Mariam.  As Charlie explained in simple terms the significance of understanding how and why cancer evolves — explaining why cancer is so tough to treat, why it reoccurs and becomes treatment resistant — it made so much of the science and the exhibition focus click into place. I was particularly moved and fascinated by Mariam’s work leading the PEACE study, something that really is opening up so many answers to aspects about cancer — particularly at its most advanced stages — that little is known about. Most of all I have been really struck by Charlie and Mariam’s passion and drive to really make a difference to the patients they work with and really transform progress in treating lung cancer.”

The exhibition aims to bust myths about the causes of cancer, explore how the disease isn’t unique to humans and how the latest cancer science, early detection technologies and immunotherapies are advancing cancer care today. It also shows how cancer has been treated over the centuries, from high-risk surgeries to the discovery of the first chemotherapy drugs, and also the important challenges that remain to be solved.

Highlights will include seldom and never-before seen objects and stories, cutting edge treatment, live research and reflection, new artist commissions and installations, film, photography, and a breadth of personal stories including from those living with chronic and advanced cancer.

It has been shaped through collaboration with people living with, treating and affected by cancer. Visitors will be able to hear the scientists, clinicians and patients in their own words as they work together to help people live longer and better with cancer.