The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of microbiology research. Among other benefits, advances in the field of microbiology have led to a considerable increase in life expectancy compared to half a century ago. Research aimed at preventing infection and developing effective new treatments is therefore essential.
Bacteria are one type of microorganism studied in the field of microbiology. Some bacteria live in symbiosis with our bodies, forming part of the human microbiome, which plays an essential role in the vital functions of our immune system and metabolism. Other bacteria cause a wide range of infections and can be quite dangerous, especially when they develop resistance to antibiotic treatment, becoming so-called superbugs. It is precisely in this pathogenic context that superbugs could become, by 2050, one of the leading causes of death worldwide.
SAFE’s contribution consists in spreading knowledge about antimicrobial resistance and empowering high-school and university students as key players capable of transferring knowledge throughout our society
In response to this increasingly apparent danger—which has even been recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO)—a new project called Superbug Awareness for Education (SAFE) was created to raise awareness and spread knowledge about antimicrobial resistance.
Funded by the European network EIT Health, the SAFE project was founded on the conviction that it is not too late to reverse the projected health trends, either for individuals or for the wider population. Tackling this situation requires urgent action to curb the use of antibiotics in humans and animals, to monitor the spread and emergence of resistant bacteria, and to develop new therapeutic alternatives, necessitating the direct involvement of elected officials and scientists, as well as considerable economic investment. Collectively, we can push for more R&D investment to fuel the development of new antimicrobial agents.
The SAFE project was launched in January 2020, under the coordination of Clara Ballesté (Antimicrobial Resistance Initiative, ISGlobal) and in collaboration with the University of Barcelona (UB), the pharmaceutical company Roche Diagnostics and the University of Naples. The core activity of the project is the organisation of service-learning workshops for high-school and university students in Southern Europe, the region of the continent most severely affected by the problem of antimicrobial resistance.
Institut Mercè Rodoreda, l'Hospitalet de Llobregat, 2019.
SAFE’s contribution consists in spreading knowledge about antimicrobial resistance and empowering high-school and university students as key players capable of transferring knowledge throughout our society. The project pursues this goal by organising microbiology workshops focusing on the analysis of bacterial strains present in the world around us and the isolation of strains with antimicrobial activity against other strains known for their multi-resistance to antibiotics. The isolated strains with the greatest antibiotic potential are transferred to a research group at the University of Barcelona’s Faculty of Pharmacy and Food Science for use in research on new antibacterial treatments.
Workshop participants have put themselves in the shoes of researchers, learning how to conduct microbiology research: isolating bacterial strains, understanding theoretical concepts, studying resistance, etc. They have also delved into the world of scientific outreach and communication by presenting their results via informal audiovisual and written materials and holding workshops open to the public at festivals such as Researchers’ Night 2020. The students who developed the six best informational resources have been offered internships at the pharmaceutical company Roche Diagnostics that will serve as an introduction to the world of private-sector research.
Participants have put themselves in the shoes of researchers, learning how to conduct microbiology research: isolating bacterial strains, understanding theoretical concepts, studying resistance, etc. They have also delved into the world of scientific outreach and communication
SAFE strives to have a long-term impact to help ensure that antibiotics will remain effective as treatment against bacterial infections. Through its service-learning workshops and outreach to the general public, SAFE promotes collective knowledge and generates data that can be used to analyse the impact of these knowledge-transfer strategies on antibiotic use and the emergence of new multi-resistant bacterial species.
The current pandemic has underscored the need to adapt SAFE’s activities for the digital world. The project has developed digital citizen co-creation campaigns and an awareness campaign for pharmacies, as well as various information capsules and articles about antimicrobial resistance. In addition, on the occasion of World Antimicrobial Awareness Week and within the framework of European Research Night, SAFE has organised a series of outreach events for the general public—a conference for young people, gamification using the Micro-Combat card game and microscopic observations—to be held at the CosmoCaixa science museum. In mainland Spain alone, SAFE has so far reached more than 500 people through its resources, campaigns and student activities.
Interested in joining the SAFE community? Visit our blog to learn more about our initiatives and informational resources. There you will find videos, tutorials, conceptual capsules and publications by students and our professional team.