Tuesday, December 11News For London

Open for Discovery exhibition: A platform to meet with a scientist

Open for Discovery exhibition at the Crick Institute is a platform to meet with scientists and learn about the future of health and new treatments.

Since it was opened back in April until September, nearly 6000 visitors have attended the exhibition. It was supposed to end on October 28th, but it was extended to run until December 9th.

Photo: Vanouhy Konjien

This exhibition is the first major exhibition at the Francis Crick Institute that opened last year.

Although established quite recently, it’s becoming an important research institute with a global focus.

Mel, 28, is a member of the public engagement team at the Crick Institute.

She said: “Our key priorities are to engage and inspire the public through exhibitions and events. We have an ambition to be among the top institutes in the world. We want to conduct world class research and attract the best talents from across the world to come and work in this institute.”

 

One-on-One Q&A with scientist Vivian Li

What project have you been researching in the lab?

I have been looking at a molecule whether it is a cancer suppressor for pancreatic cancer. I have engineered a knock-out, a tool, to cut the way to this gene to see if the cancer cell would die. Previously, other scientists have shown that if you remove this gene from the cancer cells, they are more susceptible to death. So, I am using a tool to get rid of it to see if that is true.

Is it true, would it die?

I haven’t reached my conclusion yet but I have generated the tools that I need to use so I am still debating.

What is the future like for your discoveries?

I have a positive approach to scientific advancement. There is so much excitement about immunotherapy and new tools that are coming out into the market that I think are really going to work. The problem is to really know what would work for which population. For example, in immunotherapy we have seen in clinical trial that 20 % of the people respond to it. This 20 per cent instead of dying five years later, they are still alive for 10 years. You never see that with any chemotherapy.

What is Immunotherapy?

Cancer cells are very clever, they can evade the immune system by expressing molecules on the cell surface. They say: “I’m a friend, I’m a friend. Don’t attack me!” but if you can block these molecules and also activate the immune systems at the same time, the immune system may be able to start attacking cancer cells. So, the immune system can destroy the cancer cells, because they were mutated to such an extent that it doesn’t look like a normal cell any more. So normally they would fish out the cells and destroy them, but, at some point, these cancer cells evolved to create an invisible cloth to mask them. So, if you can remove this block, then the immune system can attack them, but we still don’t understand what is the optimal way to activate the immune system, so now this is a very exciting area for cancer research.

What happens if you activate the immune system too much?

Then the immune system starts attacking itself. That is the risk, but when we understand it further we can minimize the side effect. this is what a lot of scientists in institutions are trying to work out.

 

There has been positive feedback. Visitors vary from people who know little about science and people who know a lot.

Maemenah, 10, came to the exhibition with her grandmother. Her grandmother is a scientist at the Imperial College.

She wants to become a forensic scientist. She is interested in science and she reads a lot of detective books. She likes to know things.

“I want to use science to discover crimes. I am interested in solving mysteries by studying science and math,” she said.

James, 20, UCL student, said: “It’s an interactive and easy way to understand everything even if you are not a scientist. When I study this at uni, I don’t see the relevance as I see it here. It is really awesome and it really gives good background of how experiments started. This is my second visit. Methods have changed. It is not a lot based on genetics, it is more based on cells. More research is needed for medicine to be cheaper.”

Future exhibitions include patterns of biology and how crick scientists are studying them. It will open on February 1st, 2018. There will also be a look at science through arts and a film festival entitled “Science on the Screen”.