The discussion group from the local WI met this evening to talk about Consumer Power. First we defined what it is: the ability that the customer has to influence collectively industry locally, nationally and internationally. We then looked at the ways this can be done. No one needs to teach this to WI members who through NFWI back its mandates by lobbying, letter-writing and using boycotts. Now of course social media is a powerful tool. We listed the examples of the successful use of consumer power and how demand can be created too. Some of the methods used by well-meaning organisations were criticised but on the whole we supported the work they do.
Another sell-out for the BFWI Investigation and Discovery Day run by the Education and Current Affairs Subcommittee. Professor Monica Grady gave a very enthusiastic and lively account of the creation of the Rosetta space probe and the landing of Philae on a tiny comet. First she explained what the world already knew about the Kuiper Belt and the Oort Cloud and why scientists wanted to know the actual make-up of a comet. Were they dirty snowballs of water and carbon or icy dirt balls? Did they hold the vital ingredients for the earth’s formation such as sugar, nitrogen and sulphur? Monica described the months of mathematical calculations and theories hammered out in the laboratory before being handed to the engineers to execute in time to catch the next rocket. And then the wait to see if it all worked…
Professor Seamus Higson made a welcome return to talk about biosensors, a talk which he had called snappily “From Canaries to Path. Labs and Smelly Fish to Smellier Wounds” and that is exactly what the audience got. We learned about new ways to track glucose levels in blood with the least possible pain and inconvenience for the patient. Lessons in technology had been taken from screen printers, creators of CD discs and yes, mosquitoes! Then we were on to tracking fraud by reading the DNA of the food on your plate and how to save space but include the latest technology in the vans of para- medics so that, by the time the patients arrived at A&E much was already known about them and treatment could start almost immediately. Then there are dressings which can see through to the wounds below and keep treating them without having to risk their removal tearing the newly formed skin.
After an emergency evacuation of the building and lunch, the members returned to enjoy another very lively presentation by Dr Jennifer Rohn “Antibiotics :the revenge of the microbes”--- incomprehensible numbers in space this morning and now one hundred million bacteria in each one of our bodies. Thank Goodness they are not all being unhelpful! We then saw some of the bad guys working in our bladders and the growth of cancer cells. Jennifer told us that it takes 20 years to get a new drug launched in the world and there is now a gap in production because it was believed that most problems had been solved: everyone had underestimated the way in which bacteria can combat antibiotics. Patients who don’t complete their antibiotic programmes and the over- prescription of drugs by doctors and agriculturists, all help to educate the bacteria on how to beat the medicine. This talk was not a case of “Are you sitting comfortably, then I’ll begin” but more “When you are really uncomfortable, I’ll stop”. Surrounded as we all undoubtedly were by trillions of shared bacteria, I wouldn’t have missed listening to Jennifer for anything!
Dr Richard Wyse from the Cure Parkinson’s Trust also showed us pictures of bacteria, those heading for the brain this time. He described the trials conducted on new drugs and the difficulties inherent in these. The wearing of catheters plugged into the brain is just one of the physical problems. There was footage of some successful treatments of patients in USA and work is going on in Hertfordshire. Experiments are being conducted where skin samples from the patient can be analysed and returned to the body with beneficial results and a drug from the saliva of lizards is on trial. However Richard thinks that combined therapies may hold the answer e.g. to make use of statins and cancer inhibitors in the fight against Parkinson’s disease.
After today, one thing is certain and all the speakers mentioned it. We need scientists and engineers and it would be a marvellous thing if we could encourage the young members of our families to study these subjects because time is of the essence. Invention and discovery takes time and money: there are no short cuts. Also from today’s event, these scientists are a lively enthusiastic lot who think outside the box---blood samples on CDs, lizards’ saliva? Who said science was boring?