Citizen Science Project Harnesses The Crowd To Develop New Drugs

Citizen Science Project Harnesses The Crowd To Develop New Drugs
Arts & Culture

Could you create an antibiotic that saves millions of lives?

Ross Brooks
  • 3 december 2013

What would happen if it wasn’t the responsibility of research institutions and pharmaceutical companies to come up with new antibiotics? What if it was the job of the general public instead? These are questions that Josiah Zayner and Mark Opal are trying to answer with their latest project; The International Laboratory for the Identification of New Drugs, otherwise known as”ILIAD.”

ILIAD relies on citizen scientists who would test specimens like plants and insects for antibiotic properties. Many modern medicines started their life in just this way; penicillin is derived from fungi, and a promising drug devised from the Chinese plant red sage is currently in clinical trials. Drug development isn’t easy, but crowdsourcing could turn the tide in favor of important discoveries seeing the light of day, as opposed to collecting dust on a big pharmaceutical’s shelf for not being “profitable” enough.


“When Josiah first told me about this idea, I thought it was bullshit, because I know how hard drug development is,” Opal says. “But [looking to nature] is one main way antibiotics have been discovered in the past, and I really think that crowdsourcing has the potential to give us big advantages.”

To participate, you can sponsor ILIAD on Indiegogo to get hold of a testing kit; $42 will get you a basic package, while $500 will result in a classroom kit designed for groups of students. As time goes on, the two also plan to develop an interactive, Wiki-style ILIAD website that offers a map-based database of which substances have been tested, in which locations, and whether or not they yielded successful results.

While your discovery might not make you famous, it could prove a huge boon to the global community, which would hopefully be enough for most people. “I grew up during the open-sourced software movement, and computing was completely changed by that,” said Zayner. “I want science to work the same way. Imagine the breakthroughs we could have if science was available to everybody.”


Source: The Verge

Images: ILIAD

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