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Meet the Medicine Makers

Published: 11 Sep 2017
Category:
By James Brown

It all began with the 1962 hit novelty song, Monster Mash by Bobby “Boris” Pickett. In 2009, Dr Steven Rossington from the University of Salford, UK used a Biochemical Society Scientific Outreach Grant to create a giant 3D molecular modelling workshop for schools. When bemused colleagues asked what he was building, he would cheekily reply that he was creating a monster – one he subsequently named BORIS – the Biological ORIgins of Systems.

BORIS is a 5ft, 3D model of a protein which Dr Rossington used to introduce his audience to the subject of drug therapy through a ‘hands-on’ theoretical approach to molecular modelling. The audience ‘dock’ their designed drugs to various active sites on the model and explore drug design and various molecular modelling techniques.

Taking this original concept, the British Pharmacological Society and the Biochemical Society worked together to create a (somewhat scaled down) version of the activity which could be used by our members for outreach and public engagement purposes, and Medicine Makers was born.

The Medicine Makers toolkit

The Medicine Makers toolkit is an engaging, fun, ‘hands on’ activity involving toobers, pipe cleaners, coloured card and hama beads. The activity pack comes with a step-bystep facilitators’ guide and seeks to introduce participants to the basic mechanism of how painkillers work in our bodies; looking at how our bodies respond to pain and how these medicines help us to overcome it.

The toolkit has been taken out on the road at various festivals across the country and the Society was delighted to see its members, alongside Biochemical Society members, test the toolkit at some popular science festivals such as the Lambeth Country Festival and the Big Bang Fair in Birmingham in 2016.

Medicine Makers and its evolution from ‘BORIS’ sets a precedent, demonstrating how seeding funds invested into new projects have the potential to be developed into valuable resources for public engagement activities. That’s why the British Pharmacological Society has relaunched its Engagement Grants (previously named Outreach Grants) in 2017 to include seeding funds (up to £250) and larger lump sums (up to £1,500) to support the creation and/or development of high quality engagement activities for communicating pharmacology to student, stakeholder or public audiences. Most importantly, the criteria of the new Engagement Grants encourage proposals to have a clear output for activity which can be fed back into Society  resources for our members to use, much like how the Medicine Makers toolkit evolved from ‘BORIS’.

The Biochemical Society also offers scientific outreach grants up to £1,000 for activities that communicate the excitement of molecular bioscience to young people and the community, check out the details at the end of the article for who to contact for further information.

The BPS website already hosts a library of public engagement resources, including Medicine Makers. The vision is for this resources hub to become home to a whole range of similar toolkits to help educate students, stakeholders and public audiences about the importance of pharmacology – and to spark those all-important conversations.

The importance of public engagement

It’s always surprising where those conversations can take you; there’s no predicting what sort of questions or ideas might come up. An activity such as Medicine Makers is designed to be accessible to a broad audience and a wide age range. For the youngest participants it can act as a craft activity and a chance to discuss shapes and colours. As visitors get older we can start to introduce ideas such as molecules, atoms and the concepts of drugs. Following on, we introduce protein structure and enzyme inhibition before moving onto openended discussions about drug use, efficacy, safety, drug design and the history of medical discovery. All that, and you get to play with coloured pipecleaners and beads! What’s not to like?

Of course, it’s important for activities such as these to not be used solely as a didactic teaching exercise. Public engagement is fundamentally a two-way dialogue, so be sure to really listen to what participants have to say. What are their opinions on drugs and pharmaceuticals? Where are they getting their information about medicine safety and usage? How confident are they in understanding scientific issues? What is it about your work that interests or excites them?

Needless to say, every audience will be different. There is no such thing as the “general public” and adapting your approach to the current circumstances will ensure that both you and your audience are able to engage fully with the activity. Medicine Makers can be adapted or changed to suit your needs. It can be used with small school groups in a classroom, or with hundreds of visitors at a science festival. It can be simplified or complicated, general or specific.

So if you’re looking for an activity to use in schools, at science festivals or other events, download Medicine Makers today! www.bps.ac.uk/medicinemakers-toolkit

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About the author

Teesha is the British Pharmacological Society’s Engagement Manager. Having graduated with a First Class BSc in Biomedical Sciences from the University of Southampton, UK, her Technical Support and Field Sales Representative roles for laboratory specialists Anachem Ltd (Mettler Toledo) were followed by a year as Employment Contracts Officer for University College London, UK. She works with the membership team, other staff and members, to develop and nurture the Society’s relationships with its growing membership, potential members, stakeholders, and members of the public. Teesha also manages the delivery of the Society’s public engagement initiatives as well as supporting the Society’s Ambassadors pilot scheme.

James is the Education and Public Engagement Officer at the Biochemical Society. He has Master’s degrees in Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry and Education as well as a PGCE in secondary science. James was a teacher for six years, working in England and Canada, with ages from pre-school up to 18 year olds. He has taught biology, chemistry, physics, maths, IT, photography, gardening and Canadian history (of which he knew very little). For the last two years he has worked in outreach and public engagement, first at Northumbria University, UK, with Think Physics, and now at the Biochemical Society.