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BristolBridge Schools Conference on Antibiotics and Antibiotic Resistance Science

Press release issued: 20 December 2016

The University of Bristol is at the forefront of tackling the challenge of antimicrobial resistance (AMR). Engaging with the public to raise awareness of this global health issue, and what we can all do to help, is an important part of overcoming a problem that affects health, economic and social wellbeing.

BristolBridge organised and hosted, with support from the Bristol ChemLabS outreach team (http://www.chemlabs.bris.ac.uk/outreach/), a Schools Conference on Antibiotics and Antibiotic Resistance Science for post 16-year old biology and chemistry students on 9th November 2016. It was held within the School of Chemistry to examine why antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is an escalating global threat. Around 160 students and 15 teachers from 9 schools across the southwest - from Wiltshire to Cornwall - attended the lectures and hands-on, discovery-led displays and demonstrations.

Dr Matthew Avison (School of Cellular and Molecular Medicine and Impact Lead for BristolBridge) opened the conference with “The Rise and Fall of Antibiotics”, and explained how taking antibiotics for granted and underestimating the adaptability of bacteria has driven us to the brink of the antibiotic era. He also discussed what might be done to pull us back again. Postgraduate chemist Paul Walker (Centre for Doctoral Training in Chemical Synthesis, School of Chemistry) examined "How Can We Make New Antibiotics?" and discussed the research he was undertaking on antibiotic biosynthesis to generate potential new antibiotics for the future. Following an hour of workshops, Prof. Adrian Mulholland (School of Chemistry and BristolBridge) completed the series of talks with "Nerds versus Antibiotic Resistance: Can We Use Computers to Outsmart Resistance?

The workshops and demonstrations, presented by a team of postgraduates, postdoctoral and academic staff from four University faculties included:

NanoSimbox - Simulations of the Molecular Nano World (Interactive Science (iSci) and School of Chemistry)
Modelling Bacteria using Robot Swarms (Dept. Engineering Maths & Bristol Robotics Laboratory)
How Penicillin Works (Schools of Cellular & Molecular Medicine and Chemistry)
The Bacterial Evolution and Medicinal Chemistry "Arms Race" (School of Cellular & Molecular Medicine and Dept. Engineering Maths)
Bugs Under the Microscope (School of Cellular & Molecular Medicine)
Maths Can Help Fight AMR too! (Dept. Engineering Maths and School of Veterinary Sciences)
Bacteria Get Everywhere! How can We Design Materials to Repel Them? (Bristol Centre for Functional Materials, School of Physics)
Game Zone - Play the Superbugs game (BristolBridge)
Antimicrobial Resistance – Tell us What You Know (BristolBridge).

Adrian Mullholland, who leads the BristolBridge project and who introduced the talks, was delighted by the engagement of both teachers and students. He remarked that it was “Essential that people recognise the enormity of the challenge that antimicrobial resistance poses to the world and that it is important to understand that it is not people that become antibiotic resistant but the bacteria”.

One teacher wrote: “Many thanks indeed for such an enjoyable and illuminating and relevant afternoon; our girls had been looking forward to this for many weeks! Super and engaging demonstrations and it really made the curriculum come to life. We, as ever, were welcome and the sessions were especially well organised. Our girls especially relished meeting PhD students and learning about their research at the University of Bristol. The lectures were thoroughly enjoyable and enlightening; we have had our horizons broadened! All in all a superb afternoon”.      

The students were invited to comment about what they had learned in the lectures and whether it had changed their attitude to antibiotics and AMR.  The views received included: “I realise now how much we need/should reduce the use of antibiotics”;“I never realised how close and urgent this whole issue is”; “Antibiotics need to be used less in farming”.  

After hearing about, and exploring the ways  in which the physical sciences, engineering and mathematics research at the University of Bristol is helping to tackle the global problem of AMR, it was very encouraging that one student commented “Not as hopeless as I thought. Excited by the new technology that can help!”

The University's press release can also be read here: http://www.bristol.ac.uk/news/2016/december/schools-conference-amr.html

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