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Fighting for our lives at the Science Museum

From penicillium mould grown from Alexander Fleming’s original sample, to leaf-cutter ants and their relationship with antibiotic-producing bacteria, and rapid diagnostic tests that could change the future of prescribing, the Science Museum London opens its new exhibit Superbugs: The fight for our lives today.

The exhibit is an impressive array of light and visuals, with a walk around display of floating petri dishes full of recently grown antibiotic resistant bacteria. Each section of the exhibit focuses on a story about antibiotic resistance, including doctors, researchers, farmers and patients.

The exhibit, as explained by Director of the Science Museum Group, Ian Blatchford, represents the countless people involved in tackling antibiotic resistance, and the governments and organisations attempting to change behaviour in order to slow the development of resistance.

Diagnostics are only part of the puzzle

The exhibit features four of the teams competing for the Longitude Prize, along with their rapid diagnostic test prototypes. I caught up with Bruce Savage from GFC Diagnostics, who said that while he is honoured to have been included in the exhibition for the test he and the team have created, he can see how important simply educating the public is.

"It’s not all about the technologies being developed, but also about getting people informed so they don’t demand antibiotics from their GP," he said. "Today, I was able to actually show someone living with a superbug our test for MRSA…and that was something really special for me."

The key message of the whole exhibit is that there is no single solution to slowing the spread of antibiotic resistance

We need to work together as a community to tackle it through a multidisciplinary approach - an explanation that came up over and over again throughout the event.

Lord Jim O’Neill, Chair of the AMR review, explained that although we are not there yet, challenges like the Longitude Prize are important because there is a need for international cooperation and innovation to solve this issue.

"The demand for reducing-interventions, in my opinion, ranks more important than finding new drugs - right now we need to stop treating antibiotics like sweets," he explained during his talk about the exhibit.

Science Museum - 'Superbugs: The fight for our lives'

The need for international collaboration was also expressed by Sheldon Paquin, curator of the exhibit.

"The Longitude Prize is the perfect example - telling the story of how people come together around the world for a single goal, in a single project, embracing the science of antibiotic resistance," he said. "There is no such thing as a local infection, only infections that have not gone global yet. Bacteria don’t have borders.” he added.

Communication matters

The biggest challenge to creating the exhibit was making people feel like it was an important subject to address, Mr Paquin told me, when he said very cryptically that “modern healthcare is disappearing”.

But it is.

What people don’t realise is the urgency of the matter. With over 700,000 deaths worldwide every year, it IS a crisis

What I see over and over again is the struggle to communicate this in an impactful way that people will actually take on board and act on. It feels like this is something we can all work towards, in collaboration - and many of us already are.

Communicating one aspect to the public is easier than tryng to communicate the full extent of the problem. It is hard to digest that there is no single solution to the problem, but I think the Science Museum team has done an excellent job in making the issue accessible to all. 

This blog was originally published on the Longitude Prize website

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Shannon Harmon

Shannon Harmon

Shannon Harmon

Communications Manager, Challenge Prize Centre and Digital Editor, Global Health Team at the Challenge Prize Centre

Shannon is Communications Manager for the Challenge Prize Centre and Digital Editor for the Global Health Team, including the Longitude Prize, at the Challenge Prize Centre.

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