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Early Cancer Institute

Volunteers from the Early Cancer Institute at the Cambridge Festival

Staff from the Early Cancer Institute were delighted to take part in the Big Biomedical Campus day on Saturday 16th March 2024, as part of the Cambridge Festival.

Families attending the event at the Cambridge Academy for Science and Technology were given the opportunity to find out more about the different research happening across the campus, with a huge range of activites and workshops on offer.

Our volunteers designed and hosted two fun games which explained the science behind certain aspects of early cancer detection:

Epigenetic needles in a haystack

Researchers from the Dev group organised 'Epigenetic needles in a haystack'. This game explained how Cell-free DNA (cfDNA) circulates freely in the blood and comes from a variety of sources. Scientists can take a blood sample and look for cfDNA to see if it contains markers for cancer, but it is like trying to find a needle in a haystack! Children were invited to hunt for the cfDNA 'needle' in the haystack and then used the magic light to decode its message to see if it was derived from a cancer.

Capsule Sponge Detective 

In our second activity, researchers from the Fitzgerald group and research nurses from the BEST 4 Trial showed people how to become a cancer detective using a sponge on a string! The capsule sponge test is a quick and simple way to check someone's food pipe for signs of Barrett’s Oesophagus, a potentially precancerous condition where some cells in the lining of the oesophagus have become abnormal and more at risk of turning into cancer. Children were able to see inside the body with our model, 'Norman', as our specialist nurses demonstrate how the capsule sponge test works. They could then collect cells from two 'patients' in our special game and check to see if they were positive for Barrett's Oesophagus.

The Early Cancer Institute activities were in the 'Cancer Zone', which included many more interactive exhibits from our partner institutes and programmes at the CRUK Cambridge Centre including experiments, informative demonstrations and plenty of fun activities for children and adults of all ages, such as: sweety DNA sequence bracelets, keyhole surgery simulators, jelly brain surgery and lots more!

The Cambridge Festival is a series of free talks, films, exhibitions, walks and family events running from 13th to 28th March 2024. Find out more at