Voting for the Longitude Prize 2014 is an opportunity for all of us to be involved in helping to solve some of the world’s most pressing scientific challenges.
All six challenges are important to the progression and protection of our society. Food, flight, water, paralysis and dementia all deserve the attention and £10 million prize fund, but the more I investigated the challenge of antibiotic resistance, the more convinced I became of the urgent need for a solution to a problem that puts all our health at risk in a way it hasn’t been for almost a century.
Antibiotics have only been widely used for 70 years or so, but it’s estimated that they have already saved more than 80 million lives, and on average have added 20 years to our life expectancy.
But with our over-use and misuse of antibiotics, including a staggering 25 million unnecessary courses of antibiotics prescribed each year in the UK alone, infectious bacteria have become increasingly resistant. Five thousand people in the UK die every year from infections that antibiotics failed to treat.
We urgently need a solution that reduces our over-use of antibiotics, allowing us to preserve the effectiveness of the ones we have left.
Simpler, faster and more accurate diagnostic
The most common cause for over-subscription is the difficultly that medical practitioners have in determining whether a patient is suffering from a bacterial infection, which requires antibiotics, or a viral one, which doesn’t. Blood cultures can take as long as five days to come back from the lab, so oftentimes patients will be prescribed antibiotics as a precautionary measure.
Some headway has been made however. In hospitals, tests are being developed that can identify a bacterial infection - biomarkers such as Procalcitonin (PCT) increase in concentration in the presence of a bacterial infection, and this simple blood test takes less than two hours.
However, the process remains expensive, the equipment is bulky and the test is still far too slow for use in GP surgeries, where appointments often last ten minutes.
But this is where you come in. If you vote for antibiotics as the new Longitude Prize 2014, the challenge will be to create a cheap, fast and easy to use test that identifies bacterial infections, and perhaps even uses different biomarkers to indentify the bacteria in question.
Your vote could help to fund an innovation that will safeguard a cornerstone of medicine and save lives.
Please be a part of ensuring that the future of medicine and our health is secured.
Photo credit: Liz Bonnin with antibiotic resilient bacteria. Copyright BBC/Matt Chancellor.