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Cardiff researchers unite to tackle superbugs

The BSI South Wales Immunology Group recently took part in a public engagement event to raise awareness of the fight against antibiotic resistant superbugs.

This initiative took place on 28 June at Techniquest, a science discovery centre and educational charity based in Cardiff. The centre teamed up with researchers from Cardiff University to put on a special event discussing the global rise of superbugs. Taking place as part of the Wales Festival of Innovation, Techniquest hosted ‘Superbugs: The end of modern medicine as we know it?’, a free evening of interactive exhibits, lectures and workshops for all the family to showcase new research into how the human body fights ‘bad’ germs and uses ‘friendly’ germs for its benefit, and how everyone can help to preserve antibiotics for the future.

The event was created by Matthias Eberl, BSI Trustee and South Wales Immunology Group member, and Engagement Lead at Cardiff University’s Systems Immunity Research Institute. He brought together experts from across south Wales to discuss how they are tackling the growing resistance against antibiotics and the worldwide spread of untreatable infections. The discussion comes as cases of hard-to treat strains of superbugs are becoming more prominent, resulting in 25,000 deaths across Europe annually.

Dr Eberl said, “Research conducted by world-leading teams across Cardiff University addresses some of the most pressing public health challenges that developed and developing societies are facing, and our mission is to inform, engage and involve the public in this research. Above all, we aim to inspire the next generation of doctors, scientists and generally open-minded, curious people, and show them the fascination of studying how our body works and how we can use this knowledge to improve everyone's quality of life.”

Lectures, workshops and exhibition stalls from many different organisations provided informative and fun activities to explore common medical misconceptions including those around vaccines, the use of antibiotics and decoding the early signs of sepsis; while the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry took visitors on a virtual reality, 360-degree journey inside the body exploring how today’s technology research may transform tomorrow’s treatment.

The BSI’s South Wales Group ran a joint stand together with Cardiff's Systems Immunity Research Institute at the Techniquest entrance, welcoming hundreds of young and not so young visitors and aiming to inspire budding immunologists along the way. Led by their Chair, You Zhou, and Treasurer, Ceri Fielding, the team provided information about the event and invited the guests to explore the wonders of the immune system and understand the unprecedented contribution of vaccines to public health.

Visitors were also able to enjoy the educational entertainment at Techniquest, with access to the full range of 130 hands on interactive exhibits. Before the event Lesley Kirkpatrick, CEO at Techniquest, said: “We’re thrilled to be hosting this important event with the scientists at Cardiff University. With its world-class research and medical experts, we’re looking forward to learning all about its findings around antimicrobial resistance. It’s vital that we generate awareness around this global health concern.”

The overall event attracted more than 300 visitors and featured lectures by Kerry Hood (‘What's wrong with me, Doctor?’), Maria Mendes de Carvalho (‘Global antimicrobial resistance: Why now?’), Peter Ghazal (‘Decoding the early signs of sepsis: messages from the genome’) and James Blaxland (‘Bacterial infection? Drink  more beer’).

Visitors also enjoyed an interactive workshop replicating a real laboratory studying 'superbugs', as well as 17 different stalls offering a wide range of information, activities and games. A treasure hunt asking visitors to engage in at least nine different activities and collect nine different ‘superbug’ stickers was successfully completed by 171 visitors! Prizes ranged from family tickets for Techniquest and giant microbes to Cardiff University and BSI freebies including the book ' Your Amazing Immune System '.

The event was a concerted effort by many enthusiastic helpers and involved the BSI South Wales Immunology Group, Systems Immunity Research Institute, Division of Infection & Immunity, Division of Population Medicine, Centre for Trials Research, Primary and Emergency Care Research Centre, Wales Kidney Research Unit, School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, HealthWise Wales and UK Sepsis Trust as well as the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry and Wales Festival of Innovation.

BSI South Wales Group

This article was originally published in the August 2018 edition of Immunology News, the British Society for Immunology's membership magazine.