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What a Nerve!

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a lifelong condition that often causes serious disabilities to those it affects. Often thought of a as an ‘older persons disease’, it is most commonly diagnosed in people in their 20’s and 30’s. As part of the 2019 Cambridge Science Festival, the Wellcome-MRC Cambridge Stem Cell institute, in partnership with the MS Society Cambridge and District Group and Growing Art Partnerships, are putting on a free one-day exhibition and talk series exploring all aspects of living with Multiple Sclerosis.  Collaborations between MS researchers, artists and people living with MS provides an all-encompassing view on the condition, highlighting, amongst other things, current research into MS and the issues around disabled access within Cambridge.

To be held on Sunday the 17th of March, 2019, ‘What a Nerve’ will be a stimulating exhibition of art expressing disease, science and cells through acrylic, glass, paper, paint and sound by artists Kelly Briggs, Elizabeth Fraser, Virginia Mayo, Charlotte Morrison and Jo Tunmer. The exhibition, held inside the historic Cambridge Union Society Debating Chamber, will be free, open all day and fully accessible.

Event curator Liza Read, Director of Growing Art Partnerships, believes the combination of science and art will attract a diverse audience who will be able to explore MS from multiple viewpoints.

“This exhibition will appeal to everyone who is curious about seeing and understanding science differently. Visitors can get involved, meet the artists and engage in lively Q&A’s after the talks. It will be an inclusive environment in which to explore stem cells, disease and the greater effects of having MS. Don’t miss it!”

Dr Jamie Dorey, Public Engagement Manager at the Wellcome-MRC Cambridge Stem Cell Institute, hopes the event will help raise awareness about the condition and the work of the Institute:

“Through this exhibition we hope to shed light on all aspects of MS, from the experience of people living with MS to the cutting edge research being carried out at the Cambridge Stem Cell Institute that we hope will make a real difference to how we manage the disease. 

An accompanying series of talks and Q&A from researchers, artists and individuals affected by Multiple Sclerosis will allow visitors to hear more about MS and the inspiring science and lived experiences behind the artwork. Two of the speakers, Robin Franklin, Professor of Stem Cell Medicine at the Wellcome- MRC Cambridge Stem Cell Institute, and Susan Kohlhaas, Director of Research at the MS Society, will delve deeper into the research going on at the Cambridge Stem Cell Institute and the need for further funding.

Professor Robin Franklin and his team at the Cambridge Stem Cell Institute are working towards stem-cell-based therapies for myelin regeneration, called remyelination, putting myelin sheaths back on nerve fibres.

“For us to understand how to manage the disease we must first understand how myelin regeneration takes place. Once we understand that, and why it fails, we can understand how to fix it. Continued investment from the MS Society and other funders of medical research is critical at this stage. It’s an extremely optimistic time for MS research, but we need to build on the foundations we have already laid” said Professor Franklin.

The final talk of the day will bring together the researchers, artists and patients to discuss the science and experiences that inspired their artwork. Local Cambridge artist Jo Turmer, whose sister-in-law, Ruth, has lived with MS for over 20 years, has captured how the condition has impacted Ruth over the years and the challenges she faces in day-to-day life.

“She was a keen motorcyclist who now manoeuvres a different set of wheels. These series of images focus on the obstacles that Ruth faces just to enter a city restaurant or shop. In just one minute, in my home city street, I captured images of entrances that had steep steps. An impossible task for an MS person in a wheelchair, and their carer.”

The exhibition and talks are completely free, but booking for the talks is required. Please see for more details.

Location: Cambridge Union Society, 9A Bridge Street, CB2 1UB

Date: Sunday 17 March: 10:00am - 5:00pm

For more information please contact Liza Read, Curator, Growing Art Partnerships on email:



The Wellcome - MRC Cambridge Stem Cell Institute is a world-leading centre for stem cell research with a mission to transform human health through a deep understanding of normal and pathological stem cell behaviour.   Bringing together biological, clinical and physical scientists operating across a range of tissue types and at multiple scales, we explore the commonalities and differences in stem cell biology in a cohesive and inter-disciplinary manner. In 2019, we will relocate to a new purpose-built home on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus.  Housing over 350 researchers, including a critical mass of clinician scientists, the Institute will integrate with neighbouring disease-focused research institutes and also act as a hub for the wider stem cell community in Cambridge.

Art work by Elizabeth Fraser