2018 Philadelphia Science Festival

Scientists from the AACR discuss “What can your DNA tell you about cancer?” at the eighth annual Philadelphia Science Festival, a popular celebration of science and technology in Center City

For the third year in a row, the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) was a proud sponsor of the Philadelphia Science Festival, held April 28 on Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Center City Philadelphia.

As education about cancer research is a core mission of the AACR, the organization is delighted to participate in this multi-generational event that explores science in our everyday lives. The Philadelphia Science Festival showcases the prominent influence that scientific research has on shaping solutions to problems that affect us all, from environmental concerns to diseases like cancer.

While we have seen many advances in cancer research in recent years, cancer remains the second leading cause of death in the United States. Cancer has touched millions of lives, and more research is needed to combat this disease.

As in years past, the AACR honored cancer survivors and the memories of those who have died from cancer by creating thumbprint trees with festival participants. These trees served as a strong visual reminder of the progress that has been made against cancer, and how much work remains to eliminate this disease.

This year, the AACR examined the role of DNA in cancer research, using candy to teach participants about the structure of DNA, its essential role in our development, and how changes to DNA can lead to cancer.

The ‘Sweet’ Structure of DNA

Often referred to as the "blueprint of life," our DNA carries all the necessary genetic information that we need to function. All forms of life contain DNA, and this vital macromolecule has a very specific structure.

Scientists from the AACR used candy to model the unique structure of DNA to participants at the festival. Licorice represented the sugar-phosphate backbone of the DNA double helix, while colored mini marshmallows represented the four different DNA bases. Finally, toothpicks were used to mimic the hydrogen bonds between the bases, and the entire structure was twisted to simulate the characteristic DNA spiral.

AACR staffers also modeled various examples of DNA damage: single and double strand breaks were represented by tearing the licorice; alterations in the DNA bases were modeled by modifying the marshmallows; and disruption of the hydrogen bonds was shown by breaking the toothpicks.   

DNA damage is common – it happens in the body’s cells every day! Thankfully, we have cellular mechanisms in place to repair the damaged DNA. However, this repair process has limitations, and unrepaired DNA can lead to potential problems, including cancer.

The AACR and Cancer Research

As an authoritative source of information about advances in the causes, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of cancer, the AACR is the first and largest cancer research organization in the world dedicated to preventing and curing cancer through research, education, communication, and collaboration. The programs and services of the AACR foster the exchange of knowledge and new ideas among scientists dedicated to cancer research, provide training opportunities for the next generation of cancer researchers, and increase public understanding of cancer.

Join us in the fight against cancer by volunteering or donating to support our programs, or run a few miles with our AACR Runners for Research team. Learn more about our community education initiatives here.

The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) is a 501c3 registered nonprofit organization with offices at 615 Chestnut Street, 17th Floor, Philadelphia, PA 19106 | 215.440.9300