Tuesday, 22 September 2020

Project 2050: What can we do today to change the fate of our world? - Antibiotic Resistance

Nadine Shawkey, SELA Cohort 2019

As part of Project 2050, SELA Cohort 2019 wished to demonstrate how engineering could have an impact in tackling the myriad sustainability issues which plague our society before irreparable damage is done. The exhibition is now live, in Festival of the Mind 2020 – both as an in person event, and a digital interactivity.

As a group we identified that one of the areas which are predicted to be a huge problem in 2050 in regards to the biomedical engineering field is Antibiotic resistance. 300 million people are predicted to have died because of antibiotic resistance by then.Antibiotic resistance is the process by which pathogens can become resistant to antibiotics, meaning that the treatment is no longer effective. This is generally thought to be due to mutations in the bacteria which occur randomly. These pathogens can then survive and multiply rapidly, and they are more dangerous as the drugs we used to treat them before the mutation don’t protect us against them.

The reasons why pathogens become resistent to antibiotics include the overprescription of antibiotics for conditions which are not serious, and disruption to the treatment by, for example, a patient who does not take the full treatment prescribed or who forgets to take their medication. Patients tend to stop taking the full treatment when they start to feel better which results in ‘killing’ only the weak bugs and keeping the strong ‘superbugs’. The strong bugs then get even stronger because the patient hasn’t been properly treated.

From our discussions and meetings, our group decided to present both a direct and an indirect solution for this issue. Our direct approach is to develop new antibiotics as old antibiotics are becoming ineffective, either by financing the development of new antibiotics or altering old antibiotics. This approach will eliminate bugs that are resistant to other antibiotics and has a high potential for saving a lot of lives. The main disadvantages with this solution is that it is time-consuming and expensive to develop new drugs and to prove their effectiveness on the patient. Also, if a bug becomes resistant it may transform into a superbug, which is much more difficult to treat.

Our indirect engineering approach is based on the consumers of the antibiotics. Our aim is to impact the user and work alongside primary care. We came up with an idea to create a pill bottle that has an alarm. Once the patient is prescribed with the medication they will receive it in a pill bottle that rings whenever it’s time for the patient to take a pill until the bottle runs out of pills. For example, if a pill is to be taken 3 times a day the bottle will ring every 8 hours. This solution is cheaper and much more feasible than the direct solution. However, it heavily relies on the consumer.

As a group, we’ve been able to work cooperatively together in terms of brainstorming ideas, deciding how to achieve our ideas, and actually getting the projects done. Our main problem encountered is dealing with the external changes and acting accordingly. For example, our project design had to be changed for every event. Initially, we were setting up a booth for Get Up To Speed and then for the Festival of the Mind, in both a physical and virtual format. Every time the event changed, we had to figure out a new approach to inform our audience about antibiotic resistance as the audience and environment changed. Although it has been challenging, these uncontrollable changes helped us become better equipped at handling challenges and thinking outside the box. These skills will be extremely useful for us as we become young leaders aiming to tackle and solve world issues that will affect millions of people.

Festival of the Mind runs physically and online 17-27 September 2020. For more details please visit the Festival webpages.

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