Product design and science: the search for new antibiotics

Since the discovery of Penicillin in 1928 by Alexander Fleming, drug manufacturers are constantly working to develop a new antibiotic for the treatment and prevention of bacterial infections.

Antibiotics have successfully treated bacterial diseases across the world – so why did a designer and a scientist team up to help find new variations of the drug?

Quite simply, bacteria can become resistant to particular antibiotics, so it’s important that we continue to discover more types. As most antibiotics today have been developed from natural extracts such as soil, plants and insects, can we look a little closer to home when it comes to the new breed of antibiotics?

What if the world’s next antibiotic was in your garden? Post/Biotics is a toolkit that helps everyone to become a scientist, reducing the sole reliance on pharmaceutical companies to find new antibiotics. As a National Runner up in the 2015 James Dyson Awards, co-creaters Vidhi Mehtais and Theresa Schachner have looked to crowdfunding to launch their product onto the market.

Vidhi says,

“The Post/Biotics toolkit includes a small pop-up lab that anyone can use to test samples and then send results, along with a photo and GPS location, to an online database. 

The first prototypes of the toolkit are developed for students, we found that schools were most interested in using it - the process is simple enough for children, designed like a game, and a way that students can learn through experimenting. 

Students test their samples, say a crushed bark of a tree found in their backyard, against non-pathogenic bacteria strains provided with the toolkit. If the sample has antimicrobial properties, it will change colour. When the database notices something that might be interesting, it pings researchers at various universities, and they can ask for samples. Anything that might be useful ends up in an open-source library of potential antimicrobials.”

About the creators:

Vidhi Mehtais a product and interaction designer based in London. She has recently graduated from Innovation Design Engineering from Imperial College London and Royal College of Art(UK) in 2015. Theresa Schachner has graduated in natural and cognitive sciences in Vienna and London. You can find out more about them both in this article.

 

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