Why is an antibiotic-chasing scientist going cap in hand to the crowd?

Siouxsie Wiles explains why she’s using crowdfunding to bankroll her lab’s effort in response to the global crisis of antimicrobial resistance

The crisis is real: we are running out of medicines to treat many of the microbes that cause disease in humans and animals. The crisis will affect us here in New Zealand and the national action plan being put together by the government will only delay the impact. All New Zealanders can help by practicing high standards of hygiene and taking antibiotics only as prescribed.

Those are the stark messages contained in a report from the Royal Society Te Apārangi on the global calamity that is antimicrobial resistance. Over the last few months they’ve had a team of doctors, scientists and vets (disclosure: I was one of them) to review the evidence, and put the crisis in the context of New Zealand.

Obviously, it’s going to take more than good handwashing to avert this crisis. That’s why Cure Kids have launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise $250,000 for my lab’s search for new antibiotics. This is an unusual way to fund scientific research, so I’ve had a stab at answering some of the questions it raises.

Wait, aren’t you a scientist? Aren’t you paid to do research? Why do you need to crowdfund?

Excellent questions. Yes, I’m a scientist and I run a research group at the University of Auckland. My actual job title is senior lecturer, so I’m mostly paid to teach, though my contract says I must also spend 40% of my time focused on research. Unfortunately most universities don’t just hand out money to pay for that research. Which is OK if the research just involved me thinking and writing, but my research (including our search for new antibiotics) needs people to help do the experiments, and money to buy consumables (stuff like Petri dishes and chemicals) and to pay to access expensive bits of equipment. I have to raise all this money myself by writing grant applications to my university, government…

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