Fighting for our lives at the Science Museum

09 Nov 2017

Written by Shae Harmon

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.

“Right now we need to stop treating antibiotics like sweets”.

–  Lord Jim O’Neill 

Diagnostics are only part of the puzzle

Four teams competing for the Longitude Prize are featured with their rapid diagnostic test prototypes in the exhibit. I caught up with Bruce Savage from GFC Diagnostics who said that although he is honoured to have been included in the exhibition, he can see how important it is to educate the public – which the Science Museum is a champion of.

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

The key message of the whole exhibit, in fact, was that there is no one solution to slowing the spread of antibiotic resistance. We need to work together as a community to communicate and tackle it through a multidisciplinary approach – a term that came up over and over again throughout the event.

“There is no such thing as a local infection, only infections that have not gone global yet. Bacteria don’t have borders”

– Shelson Paquin, Scienze Museum Curator

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

“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 said in his talk about the exhibit.

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. There is no such thing as a local infection, only infections that have not gone global yet. Bacteria don’t have borders,” he said.

Communication matters

The biggest challenge to creating the exhibit was making people feel like it is an important subject, 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, but in collaboration – and many of us already are. Communicating one aspect to the public is easier than communicating them all together – it is probably harder to digest that there is no one true solution to the problem, but I think the Science Museum team has done an excellent job of pulling it together.