Saturday, November 26, 2022

An exhibition on cancer displays hope for the future

LONDON – With so many lives affected by cancer – in the United States alone, about 40 percent would receive a cancer diagnosis during their life – it would be understandable if disease was a common and compelling topic for museum shows.

Despite the statistics, major exhibitions on cancer have been few and far between. But on Wednesday, “Cancer Revolutions: Science, Innovation and Hope” opened at London’s Science Museum. Running till January 2023, the show is one of the first major institutional efforts to tell the full story of the disease and its treatment.

Exhibits include objects from early surgeries – which were conducted without anaesthetic – as well as showing how artificial intelligence and virtual reality are now helping doctors diagnose and treat disease.

Katie Dabin, the science museum’s curator of medicine, said in a telephone interview that an exhibit on cancer could easily be “cold and diagnostic”—”It’s a hard sell for a family day,” she acknowledged.

To avoid this, she said, she tried to include items to increase interest in the topic and make visitors feel comfortable discussing their fears and hopes about the disease. Dabin knows those fears all too well—her mom got a breast cancer diagnosis just as the exhibit was being put together. As her mother recovers — “touch the wood, she’s healed,” Dabin said — she’s also experienced the growing hope that advances in medical science can provide.

In the one-hour talk, Dabin talked about some of the show’s exhibits, including a tumor found in a tree and the machines involved in cutting-edge technology like gene editing. Here are excerpts from his comment, edited for content and clarity.

There is a perception that cancer is a modern disease, and very uniquely human, and that many people blame themselves when they are diagnosed: ‘What have I done?’ But cancer affects all multicellular life. It is a disease of cells and unfortunately when cells divide, sometimes this process goes wrong.

This is a shinbone from a Centrosaurus apertus: a horned, plant-eating dinosaur that lived in Alberta, Canada, about 76 million years ago. Researchers at McMaster University and the Royal Ontario Museum put the bone through almost the same process as a human being diagnosed with cancer today — even with a CT scan — to prove that dinosaurs also had cancer. were influenced by.

Plants can also cause cancer, such as a tree tumor known as crown gall. Because plants have more rigid cell walls, cancer cells do not spread in the same way that humans and animals do.

Doctors have always known about cancer—its name derives from the Ancient Greek word for crab—but in ancient times, they knew there wasn’t much they could do to help. The cancer will often come back. But things got better with our understanding of anatomy and better medical techniques.

This is a cast of Robert Penman’s face. He was 16 when he began to see a growth on his jaw that continued to grow. In 1828, when Penman was 24, a Scottish surgeon named James Syme performed a remarkable operation to remove the tumor. This was years before anesthesia was widely used, and Penman may have been in excruciating pain, but he remained upright in a chair during the entire 24-minute operation. He made a full recovery.

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A cast of Penman’s jaw was probably made to document the case, but today 3-D prints are used to help plan complex surgeries, such as a tumor found in a 6-year-old named Leah Bennett. was in the girl’s stomach. The tumor wrapped around her spine and her major blood vessels, and many surgical teams deemed it too risky to remove. But surgeons at Elder Hay Hospital near Liverpool worked with a 3-D scanning company to design the model and plan the surgery. They removed about 90 percent of the tumor, and Leah eventually went back to school.

Surgery is still the main method of removing the tumor, but after the discovery of X-rays in 1895, radiotherapy soon began to be used as well. When scientists realized that X-rays could damage healthy skin, doctors put two and two together and thought, ‘If they can damage healthy cells, they can also damage cancer cells. Huh.’ The problem with X-rays was that they could not penetrate deep into the body, so radium was often used instead.

The most common form of radiotherapy today is the use of linear particle accelerators. Scientists developed them in the 1950s and they are essentially a heavy-duty X-ray machine. This is a toy version that doctors give to children so that they understand the process and find it less scary.

Chemotherapy is the second major form of cancer treatment. It has an astonishing origin. In World War I, mustard gas was used as a chemical weapon, and doctors noticed that the soldiers who were affected had very low numbers of white blood cells. So they started experimenting and thought, ‘Well, if it’s killing white blood cells, maybe it can help with blood cancer, where the white blood cells are dividing rapidly.’

Two researchers in the United States, Louis Goodman and Alfred Gilman, tested the use of nitrogen mustard as a therapy for advanced lymphoma, and it opened the field for research into other chemicals.

In the 50s and 60s, the side effects of chemotherapy were so terrible that it became very difficult for the medical community to accept it as a treatment. Even today there may be many. These are all medications that one of the patients participating in our exhibition, Ann Marie Wilson, takes each month to manage the side effects of her treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

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“He’s had chemotherapy, radiotherapy, he’s had surgery, and it affects things like his vision, his stomach and digestion, his bones. We didn’t want to avoid the side effects of the side effects, but in large amounts to improve them. Researches are going on.

When patients go through treatment, there is obviously a lot of worry about how they are going to feel, how their identity is going to change, how their family is going to react. But many families actually come together to help someone cope with treatment. This is the wig stand of another patient, Sarah Hurd, who helped with our exhibition, and her daughter decorated it to make it less awkward and creepy.

Henrietta Lacks was an African American mother of five, and a very strong, bubbly character, who died of cervical cancer at the age of 31. I can’t imagine how horrifying the 1950s must have been for her, given her race and cancer stigma, and that it was somewhere intimate.

She was treated at Johns Hopkins Hospital, and the research team found it very interesting that her cancer was so aggressive, so without her or her family’s consent, they took samples of the cells and began cultivating them. Those cells were named HeLa after him and have proven incredibly useful in cancer and other research, but you can understand that his family is still deeply saddened by what happened.

There are so many exciting areas of cancer research and one of the most pressing concerns is early cancer detection, as it can help save lives. This is a cytosponge developed to help detect esophageal cancer – one that is usually difficult to detect because it is often confused with heartburn. The cytosponge is a pill that you swallow, and when it dissolves it breaks open into a small sponge that is pulled from the throat and collects all the cells along the esophagus. They can then be sent for analysis using novel procedures.

The test can be done in a doctor’s office so that the patient does not have to go to the hospital, is not unconscious, and a camera is put down their neck.

Another exciting area that has recently opened up is personalized cell therapy. This is an apheresis machine and is used to collect a patient’s white blood cells, which are then sent to a laboratory to be genetically modified, so that a receptor can be added to them that allows them to become cancer cells. Helps to locate and kill them.

It doesn’t work for everyone – it’s for a very specific group of patients and it’s hard for them – so I don’t want to say it’s okay. It is also expensive, it is very difficult and it also takes time.

But where we are trying to reach is far less about using drugs to kill cancer cells; It is better to prepare your body to recognize the disease and fight it.

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