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From Bugs to Drugs: Pharmacy Research Experience Day

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The activities described in this case study were delivered through the School-University Partnerships Initiative (SUPI). Funded by Research Councils UK, SUPI involves 12 universities working in partnership with local schools, with coordination support from the NCCPE. SUPI projects aim to develop more effective engagements between researchers and school pupils, and to inspire a broader range of pupils to develop inquiring minds by engaging them in a diversity of exciting hands-on research related activities.

This case study explores the ‘From Bugs to Drugs: Pharmacy Research Experience Day’ organised by Fastbleep Pharmacy, a creative, educational and aspirational Widening Participation initiative delivered by the University of Manchester hosted SUPI. The event was led by Dr David Allison, Reader in Pharmacy Education.

  • Lead organisations
    • Manchester Pharmacy School, University of Manchester and local secondary schools
  • Project summary
    • Pharmacists are the experts in medicines, the majority working in either community (High Street) or hospital pharmacy, providing medicines and health advice to patients. However, a small percentage of pharmacists also work in the Pharmaceutical Industry. The overall aim of this workshop was to give Year 12 pupils a taste of a very specific aspect of pharmacy, one that is perhaps not so obvious or mainstream, namely, some key research aspects that form an integral part of the Drug Development Process.

    • In order to make the half-day research experience fun, interesting and realistic, it was decided to theme all of the activities around the emergence of a newly discovered, antibiotic resistant (and fictitious) microorganism such that the participants would explore different, though limited, aspects of the drug development process in the quest to produce a new antibiotic that would be active against this microorganism. The activity also maps onto current Government level concerns about antibiotic resistance. The three areas selected in order to give a varied mix of research skills were microbiology (organism isolation and antibiotic testing); pharmacokinetics (body organ distribution and metabolism testing), and molecular modelling (3D computer modelling simulation).
  • Project development
    • A working group was set up to include three young researchers (a postdoctoral fellow and two second year postgraduate students) covering microbiology, pharmacokinetics and molecular modelling with the whole programme being overseen by the Flagship lead. The initial draft of the activity workbook was trialled on some Year 12 pupils that were present in the Manchester Pharmacy School on a summer vacation programme; their input was invaluable, particularly in terms of user friendly language and what it would be realistic to achieve in a three-hour period.
  • Aims
    • - To work with young researchers. It was agreed that each of the young researchers would say a little about both their journey to Higher Education and their current research activities as an introduction to their area of expertise.
    • - To find out a little about the drug development process.
    • - To experience different research skills.
  • Project outputs
    • During the past year, three workshops have been run with over fifty students attending. In order to be as inclusive as possible, no school is invited to send more than five pupils. To date, ten schools have sent pupils to the workshops. With relatively low numbers in each workshop the depth and level of engagement with the presenters is much greater. All of the activities are held in laboratory settings which are used for both undergraduate teaching and pharmaceutical research and are supervised by all four members of the team. Participants are provided with a laboratory manual which describes the activities, sets the activity in the context of drug development, and also includes some applied questions for the participants to think about and complete.
  • Project outcomes
    • Overall, participants found the workshop to be interesting, stimulating, fun and informative. Moreover, it provided an ideal less-formal setting to discuss career pathways with researchers who were closer to the students in age. At the last workshop held in October 2014, feedback from completed questionnaires was overwhelmingly positive, giving the whole event a Likert scale rating of 3.23 out of a possible 4, with 94% stating 'I liked it a lot' (29%) or 'I quite liked it' (65%). Respondents stated that the event was 'Educational' (71%), 'Interesting' (58%) and 'Helpful' (53%). One students commented that the event had ‘offered a fantastic insight into pharmaceutical careers’ through sessions that were ‘brilliantly delivered by knowledgeable and enthusiastic PhD students, who were willing to share their expertise and answer all of our questions’.
  • Keys to making it work
    • - Tailoring the activities round a concept – the idea of developing a drug to combat a new 'zombie' microorganism makes the session fun for the pupils and easy to understand.
    • - Working in small groups to allow for higher level engagement between pupils and researchers.