Superbugs: The Fight For Our Lives
9 November 2017 – Spring 2019
A free exhibition at the Science Museum
Major Sponsor: Pfizer
Associate Sponsor: Shionogi
Supported by UK Research and Innovation and the University of East Anglia
We share our world with bacteria. Trillions live on and inside you, and although many are harmless they can also cause infection and death. Thanks to antibiotics, millions of people each year are cured of previously untreatable bacterial diseases. But bacteria have fought back, evolving into superbugs resistant to antibiotics.
Opening on 9 November 2017, Superbugs: The Fight For Our Lives explores humanity’s response to the unprecedented global threat of antibiotic resistance. Today superbugs kill almost 700,000 people a year globally and by 2050 this could rise to 30 million. Examining antibiotic resistance at the microscopic, human and global scale, this exhibition features remarkable scientific discoveries from across the globe and reveals the personal stories of those waging war on superbugs.
Visitors will glimpse twelve real bacteria colonies in the exhibition, including nine deadly bacteria that the World Health Organisation classifies as a significant threat to human health. Grown by bioartist Anna Dumitriu, the bacteria include Escherichia coli, often first to colonise new-born babies’ stomachs, Staphylococcus aureus, one of the earliest superbugs identified and Neisseria gonorrhoeae. The exhibition includes a digital interactive examining the microscopic world of bacteria and reveals how Bdellovibrio bacterivorous (a bacterium that eats other bacteria) and bacteriophages (a virus that infects bacteria) battle superbugs.
At the human scale, we delve into the stories of those tackling antibiotic resistance, from a superbug survivor to healthcare professionals preventing infections and a designer’s solutions to stop bacteria spreading. Geoffrey, a former patient who was in isolation for five months after antibiotics failed to treat a bacterial infection acquired during surgery, shares his story with visitors. Doctors Zoe Williams and Imran Rafi examine why millions of antibiotics are taken unnecessarily, and with 1.3 million people catching bacterial infections in UK hospitals each year, visitors can investigate how Sarah Whitney prevents bacteria spreading at The Royal Marsden Hospital. As almost half of antibiotics are used in agriculture, the exhibition also explores how robotic chickens and listening to pigs coughing can help farmers reduce antibiotic use.
Ian Blatchford, Director of the Science Museum said: ‘As the home of the greatest medical collection in the world, it is fitting that the Science Museum is to open an exhibition on antibiotic resistance – the most pressing medical challenge facing our society. With the resurgence of diseases once thought banished to history books, this exhibition shines a light on the remarkable scientific research that could stop the spread of the superbugs.’
Superbugs: The Fight For Our Lives also examines the antibiotic resistance crisis on a global scale. Thirty years since the last antibiotic was approved for human use, researchers are hunting for new antibiotics in unusual places. Visitors can dive with University of Illinois at Chicago researchers in a video which explores the Icelandic fjords that may provide a new source of antibiotics. Also on display are South American leafcutter ants, which use fungi and bacteria to produce antibiotics that can kill superbugs like MRSA. University of East Anglia researchers are investigating how these bacteria function to help develop new antibiotics.
Four prototypes made by teams across the globe vying to win the £8 million Longitude Prize – awarded by the UK Government and Nesta to the first team to develop a fast, affordable and accurate diagnostic test for bacterial infections – will also be on display. Stellenbosch University in South Africa are developing a test that can detect when the body’s immune system responds to a bacterial infection, while the UK’s GFC diagnostics have created a fluid which turns blue when bacteria with antibiotic resistant genes are found.
Meeting the unprecedented challenge of antibiotic resistance requires global action. By acting as the head of a global health organisation, visitors can attempt to stop the spread of superbugs across the globe in a new interactive game developed exclusively for the exhibition.
Sheldon Paquin, curator of Superbugs: The Fight For Our Lives said: ‘For over seventy years antibiotics have been essential to medicine, helping save hundreds of millions of lives. As antibiotics become increasingly ineffective, our exhibition investigates the latest research in our battle against superbugs.’
Superbugs: The Fight For Our Lives is supported by Pfizer (Major Sponsor) and Shionogi (Associate Sponsor) with additional support from UK Research and Innovation and the University of East Anglia.
The exhibition is open daily from 9 November 2017 until spring 2019, with late opening until 22.00 on the last Wednesday of each month (except December) for Lates at the Science Museum.
Should you have any questions regarding antibiotic resistance research at UEA please contact:
Prof Laura Bowater, Norwich Medical School (01603 591941)
Dr Karen Smith, Research and Innovation Services (01603 593147)