Antibiotics Challenge



Sandra: BSc (Hons) Biomedical Sciences, MSc Science, Communication and Society. Louise: Edinburgh University 1993-97, Imperial College 1997-2001. Aled: BSc (Hons) in Microbiology, PhD in Microbiology. PB: BSc (Hons) followed by a PhD in Genetics, long long ago.


Sandra: BSc (Hons) & MSc, CBio, CSci. Louise: Bsc(Hons) in Genetics, PhD in Evolutionary Genetics. Aled: BSc (Hons), PhD. PB: BSc(Hons) & PhD.

Work History:

Sandra: NHS, Armed Forces Louise: Universities of Nottingham, Virginia, Reading. Aled: Pfizer Ltd., University of Nottingham, PB: Universities in Glasgow, Edinburgh, London (UCL), New York (Columbia) and now Birmingham

Current Job:

Sandra: Biomedical Scientist. Louise: Lecturer. Aled: Research Associate. PB: Senior Lecturer


Louise: University of Reading. Aled: University of Nottingham. PB: University of Birmingham

My work and the challenge

Keep our antibiotics working by creating a simple test for bacterial resistance.

If we could test the patient for antibiotic resistance before we treated them we could save time and prevent deaths.

Targeting antibiotics properly and not wasting them on bacteria which are resistant to them is a “no-brainer”.

If I won the £10,000,000 I'd spend it on...

My Interview

Other stuff


Meet the Antibiotics Team:

myimage4 Louise Johnson: I’m a geneticist at the University of Reading. A lot of my research is in experimental evolution: that’s when you measure evolution happening in real time in the lab. I see every day how fast and powerful bacterial evolution is – unless we work hard, we’ll lose the race against resistance, and medicine as we know it will become impossible.

myimage5Peter Balfe: I’m a senior lecturer at the University of Birmingham and a member of the Institute of Microbiology and Infection. I’m very old, fat and bald. My job is to help run the Hepatitis Virus research group and to teach Microbiology to students in the Medical School. You’ll find one of my PhD students,- Ditte,- over in the Genomics zone! Go say hello. Although I’ve been doing this job for 30 years, I’m still being surprised every day by what pathogens can do.

myimage2Sandra Richards: I am a chartered biomedical scientist working in an NHS cellular pathology lab. My job is to sit peering down a microscope at cells that have been taken from the top of a woman’s cervix. I look at the cells to see if they are healthy or not. And if they are not, then how bad is it and how can we treat the patient to make sure she is healthy again. This is something I am training to do and will qualify in a few months. However I have been a qualified specialist scientist for about 8 years.

I also work in ‘cytology non gynae prep’, this means I prepared body fluids from sick patients, I centrifuge the fluids and make the cells stick to microscope slides, then I stain them with biological dyes so they can be seen under the microscope. Again to look to see what is wrong with that person. Perhaps they have an infection and need antibiotics!? Or perhaps the have cancer and need a differet type of treatment.

I am a Fellow of the Society of Biology and a National Council member of the Institute of Biomedical Sciences. I have won several awards for my public engagement of science, including becoming one of the Science Council’s Top 100 UK Leading Scientists.

I’m not very old, fat or bald. Well, 41 next month is very young I think, have a bit of a belly but lots less than a few years ago and my hair is long. And I love prog rock, and astronomy, and I am a mum to 2 sons.

myimage6Aled Roberts: I’m a research associate in the Centre for Biomolecular Sciences at the University of Nottingham.  My current research focusses on how bacteria arrange themselves into 3D structures, however I have a keen interest and knowledge in “natural-” and “ancient-” biotics (such as honey!!!).  I find it amazing that 1000s of years ago, ancient doctors were using remedies that could cure infection and that one day we might be relying on these remedies.


My challenge

A Test to Beat Antibiotic Resistance

In 1940, policeman Albert Alexander scratched his face on a rosebush. It killed him.

Albert was the first patient to be treated with penicillin. It would have saved his life, but the hospital couldn’t produce it in sufficient quantity to complete his treatment. However, large-scale production soon followed and we entered the antibiotic era. Today an earache or an eye infection are, for most of us, a minor nuisance, reliably cleared up with a few days’ pills. It’s easy to forget how amazing that is! In fact, it’s estimated that the availability of antibiotics adds 20 years to every single person’s life expectancy.

But bacteria evolve fast. Some strains are now resistant to everything we’ve got. We desperately need to solve this problem, or it will affect all of us, and in more ways than we might imagine. Chemotherapy and organ transplants, which involve suppression of the immune system, would become many times more dangerous. Surgery would become so high-risk, currently routine operations would have to be abandoned. And, perhaps most frightening, a simple scratch could once again be fatal.

There are many ways in which scientists can work to prevent this disaster. We can work to find, develop and manufacture new drugs. We can explore alternatives to antibiotics, such as using viruses to kill bacteria. We can build our understanding of bacterial evolution to seek the best ways to slow or prevent resistance. However, the specific Longitude challenge in Antibiotics is to develop a “cheap, accurate, rapid, and easy-to-use test for bacterial infections“. A test like this would prevent one of the main driving forces of resistance: the overuse and inappropriate use of antibiotics. It would preserve the “shelf-life” of the drugs we’ve got, and ensure that any new drugs we can develop will keep their efficacy for as long as possible.

Which challenge would you vote for if not your own

Louise: Water. Like most of the world’s problems, the threat to our water supply is as much a political and economic problem as a scientific one. But this is an area where new technology could help, and it’s clear what the specific aim of the Water Challenge is – it’s not just a vague item from a wish list.

Longitude Prize Guide from the BBC - click the image