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UK’s first exhibition exploring cancer research opens at The Francis Crick Institute

A hand-sculpted, organically contoured cinema installation

A hand-sculpted, organically contoured cinema installation, part of the Outwitting Cancer exhibition at the Crick. Photograph by Fiona Hanson

Outwitting Cancer – Making Sense of Nature’s Enigma is an immersive exhibition exploring the trail-blazing research that is ‘turning the tide on cancer’.

The aim is to empower visitors to have positive discussions about cancer, to spark curiosity in those who know little about the subject and galvanise them to dig deeper and find out more.

Exhibition Curator, Yasmin Khan

As well as being the UK’s first exhibition exploring cancer research, the exhibition is also the first to focus on cancer research that is taking place within a working science laboratory – The Crick Institute – home to leading cancer scientists from across the world.

The Crick was formed in 2015 and opened in 2017 as a biomedical research centre in London in partnership with Cancer Research UK, Imperial College London, King’s College London, the Medical Research Council, University College London (UCL) and the Wellcome Trust.

Engage and inspire the public

Visitors looking at lung model

Visitors looking at lung model at the Outwitting Cancer exhibition. Photograph by Fiona Hanson

One of the institute’s five strategic priorities is to engage and inspire the public and it does this through a series of carefully curated and thought-provoking exhibitions.

It continues this trend with Outwitting Cancer – Making Sense of Nature’s Enigma, which features a vast hand-sculpted, organically contoured cinema installation produced in collaboration with an artist collective and a soundscape by award-winning artist Mira Calix with projected imagery from the Crick.

“[It] features a micro cosmos – a cinematic installation that takes visitors on a voyage of discovery into the human cell where they immerse themselves in a multisensory haven or a rare microscopy images and a mesmerising soundscape,” Exhibition Curator, Yasmin Khan, said.

Eight specially commissioned films – which the Crick says form the backbone of the exhibition – capture conversations between cancer researchers, patients and those with personal perspectives on cancer, meeting for the first time to explore the big questions driving research.

Commissioned films include:

  • BBC journalist George Alagiah, who is living with bowel cancer, meets Vivian Li, Stem Cell and Cancer scientist, as she creates ‘mini-organs’ (organoids) in the quest to personalise cancer treatments.
  • Renowned cell biologist Mariann Bienz, who had a lung removed as part of her own cancer treatment, meets Charlie Swanton, Cancer Research UK’s Chief Clinician and Crick group leader to talk about the evolution of tumours.
  • Lawyer and brain cancer patient Adam Blain, meets scientist Simon Boultonto talk about the role of DNA in cancer as well as his experience of having a tumour which was first diagnosed by his wife.
  • Cancer Research UK’s Chief Scientist Karen Vousdentalks to Alix Fox (broadcaster and sex educator) to bust some cancer myths including: do elephants get cancer and is cancer ‘contagious’?
  •  “This is the only exhibition of its kind where the trailblazing research being showcased is taking place right under this roof, which gives it an authentic edge that no other museum can claim,” said Khan.

“The aim is to empower visitors to have positive discussions about cancer, to spark curiosity in those who know little about the subject and galvanize them to dig deeper and find out more.”

A visitor holds a copy of a special exhibition zine created by the Patient Advisory Panel. Photograph by Fiona Hanson

A visitor holds a copy of a special exhibition zine created by the Patient Advisory Panel. Photograph by Fiona Hanson

The unique exhibition was developed in collaboration with a Patient Advisory Panel who all have some lived experience of cancer, whether it is personal or through a family member. They have also co-created a zine – ‘Onco’Zine – A Rough Guide to Cancer for visitors to take away.

Discovery without boundaries

The Crick’s mission is discovery without boundaries and it states: ‘We don’t limit the direction our research takes’.

This is echoed by Paul Nurse, Director of the Crick, who said: “We feel that scientists have to be open and available to the community. Over half our research group leaders are involved in some way in cancer research.

“Cancer is clearly something that we have to think carefully about because 1 in 2 of us will get cancer in our lifetime. So it’s a critically important problem for health and one that is notoriously difficult scientifically both to understand and to manage.”

A season of special events and talks, as well as an in-depth digital experience with additional exhibition content.

Outwitting Cancer: Making Sense of Nature’s Enigma is a free exhibition running until 15 July 2022 at The Francis Crick Institute, London.

About the author – Adrian Murphy

Adrian is the Editor of MuseumNext and has 20 years’ experience as a journalist, half of which has been writing for the cultural sector.

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