65 years on from Photo 51

Photo 51

Sixty five years ago this year, King’s PhD student Raymond Gosling took a photograph under the supervision of Rosalind Franklin. It was to revolutionise the world of science forever. Known as Photo 51, this fuzzy X-ray photo of a strand of DNA is one of the most important scientific photos ever taken. It helped to identify the unique structure of DNA.

The original was only a few centimetres across, but brings into focus that the smallest of discoveries can have world-changing impact. It makes us proud to think that Photo 51 was taken here, with the help of a King’s student, and has led to such life-changing developments in medicine worldwide.

Sixty five years on from Photo 51, King’s is still making discoveries, which will have massive impact in the world today.

For example, James Spicer, Professor of Experimental Cancer Medicine at King’s College London, and Consultant in Medical Oncology at Guy’s and St Thomas’, and his team of King’s students are developing a world-leading new trial that could help the body’s own immune system to fight cancer.

The survival rate for cancer drops significantly once tumours spread to different parts of the body. Tumours can also begin to re-grow even after doctors have eliminated all trace of them through treatments such as radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

Researcher in lab

The protein responsible for this, by causing cancer cells to divide and spread, is called hTERT. The immune systems of people with cancer are suppressed, making it difficult for their immune system to kill cancer cells. Professor Spicer is working with students to pioneer a form of targeted immunotherapy, which activates the body’s immune system, essentially teaching it to recognise and destroy the hTERT protein.

By injecting small fragments of the hTERT protein into people with cancer, it is hoped that this treatment will work in much the same way as any other vaccine – preparing the body to fight the cancer by stimulating the growth of antibodies, which are specifically developed to destroy the hTERT protein. Professor Spicer and his students hope to stop cancers returning or spreading. Just one example of the ways in which the tiniest of particles can create huge change in the lives of people.

Sixty five years on from Photo 51, it’s good to know that King’s commitment to changing the world for the better hasn’t diminished as we move forward into new realms of medical research.

Are you inspired by Photo 51 and King’s fight against cancer? Why not donate to help our pioneering medical research.